Nel's New Day

August 3, 2014

Hobby Lobby Won’t Go Away

The memory of most Supreme Court rulings fade fairly fast, but the Hobby Lobby decision is still in the media more than a month after the Supreme Court eroded women’s reproductive rights by declaring that corporations have religious rights. A prediction that the ruling might lead to dire circumstances is beginning to bear fruit:.

The Satanic Temple is seeking religious exemption from laws restricting access to abortions, which violate its members’ religious freedom. The basis for their argument is Alito’s statement that religious beliefs can trump scientific fact. When the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in the early 1990s, far-right Christians were afraid that women’s rights to plan their families might be considered a matter of religious conscience.” The Supreme Court has thrown the door open for this argument.

People shouldn’t have to pay student loans. Interest in the Bible is usury and considered sinful, and all debts must be forgiven every few years in the “Year of Jubilee,” according to the same source. Christians following the Bible shouldn’t be forced to pay interest or return the money after the few years.

Members of the Alabama Public Service Commission have called on the public to pray to God for protection from the new EPA limits on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Member-elect Chip Beeker asked, “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” They might be able to sue for relief under the Hobby Lobby sincerely-held religious belief. Arguments from religious beliefs on the opposite side could be that God wants people to be healthy.

The IRS is required to enforce rules banning pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit after the Freedom from Religion Foundation won its lawsuit. Although advocating for candidates in church is against the law, the IRS wasn’t stopping the practice. Unfortunately, the court decision in favor of FFRF won’t go into effect immediately because of a current moratorium on any IRS investigations of any tax-exempt entities. Pastors could avoid the law by claiming that churches are only using their “sincerely-held” religious beliefs to campaign for—or against—candidates.

After President Obama announced that he was requiring federal contractors to end job discrimination against LGBT people, religiously affiliated institutions came out of the woodwork, asking for religious exemptions. President Obama declared no exemptions except for the religious exemptions that George W. Bush had earlier allowed. Bush hadn’t included corporations in his exemptions. Yet the president’s order could be overturned for “religious” for-profit corporations because of Hobby Lobby.

Sara Hellwege is suing the Tampa Family Health Centers (TFHC) for not giving her a job interview after she told them that she would not prescribe any hormonal contraction. She claims that the women’s clinic is discriminating against her on the basis of her religion. Hellwegg is demanding $400,000 in damages, $75,000 in fines, and forfeiture of all federal funding until the company stops discrimination—evidently against people who won’t perform the job’s duties.

A  lawsuit on behalf of two prisoners at Guantanamo Bay claims that a definition of corporations as people with religious rights extends to Gitmo detainees. Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen were prevented from attending communal Ramadan prayer because they were on a hunger strike. Two earlier D.C. Circuit decisions had ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not “persons” under RFRA protection. If Hobby Lobby can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA, then so can these two men, according to their lawyers.

The U.S. Department of Education has continued to grant exemptions to “Christian” universities, allowing them to discriminate against transgender students. According to Title IX, schools cannot receive federal funds, including public student loans and Pell grants, if they discriminate against transgender and gender-nonconforming students—unless they’re religious like George Fox University, Simpson University, and Spring Arbor University. Simpson, for example, cannot “support or encourage” an individual who lives in “conflict with biblical principles.” Spring Arbor has been given permission to discriminate against unwed mothers and punish students for dating someone of the same gender. For-profit corporations will surely want the same “religious” rights as these universities.

These are just a few of the “unintended consequences” that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to in her dissenting opinion. Speaking about the case in an interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg said that the five men who ruled against women’s rights have a “blind spot” about women’s issues and that they didn’t understand “the ramifications of their decision.” Anyone who considers that these consequences are impossible should consider that people said the same thing about a favorable ruling for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby.

Justice Samuel Alito’s ruling that the Hobby Lobby is a “person” comes from the 1871 Dictionary Act that tried to simplify constitutional language. The statement that such terms as corporations and companies come under the umbrella of “person” was limited by the statement “unless the context indicates otherwise.” Alito’s ruling combined this act with RFRA, but the exemptions in the RFRA are defined as one that “holds itself out as a religious organization.” Hobby Lobby is not a religious organization: it sells crafts.

RFRA was legislated to protect employees, not employers. It was initiated because of an employer’s prejudice against a non-Christian religion. SCOTUS turned the protection on its head, protecting Christian employers against all employees Christian and non-Christian. An actual human person doesn’t have the ability or right to force everyone around him to abide by the restrictions of his religion, even if those people work for him. but it seems that Hobby Lobby does. By allowing closely held corporations to take on a religious identity, Alito has allowed their owners to impose their religions on the people who work for them.

Ginsburg wrote in her Hobby Lobby dissent:

“Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

The Hobby Lobby decision is more about ensuring that women will maintain a subservient position in U.S. culture as summarized in Erick Erickson’s tweet: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.” The “consequence” of “free sex” for women can be loss of jobs, loss of education, loss of financial security—in short, loss of everything. Even Hobby Lobby fired a pregnant woman. Men, on the other hand, have no consequence from “free sex.”

Although contraception could put women on a more equal footing with men, the Supreme Court forces many women to buy their own contraception. Hobby Lobby objected to only four types of contraception, but the five male justices “protected” corporations from having insurance for all 20 forms of FDA-approved contraception. When men have “free sex” and women have to pay for it, men retain their power over women.

After the Hobby Lobby decision, male conservatives spent a great deal of time salivating about the thought of all those “slutty” women who were restricted in their access of contraception. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) complained about women using birth control to protect themselves from “recreational behavior.”

Not one of these misogynists mentioned protecting women from uterine cancer or ovarian cysts or anemia or endometriosis or other health problems needing hormonal medication.

As Ginsburg stated, Hobby Lobby begins the practice of preferring some religions over others. Now justices will be “evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims” and “approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodations.” The website for The Becket Fund shows a current list of litigants already taking advantage of Hobby Lobby. These cases have a high cost—women paying a minimum of millions for contraception and taxpayers paying billions for court cases.

The only ray of hope is that Justice Alito decided the case on the basis of a Congressional statute. If the ruling had been constitutional, it could be changed only by a constitutional amendment. As it stands, Congress can fix it by defining “person” and “exercise of religion” in RFRA. With our current dysfunctional and religious-conservative Congress, this ray is only a glimmer.

Sens. Patty Murry (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) introduced a bill called “Not My Bosses’ Business Act” to prevent for-profit businesses from dropping birth control coverage. Republicans blocked the bill with only GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mark Kirk (IL), and Susan Collins (ME) voting to move the bill forward. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supported the bill to override the Hobby Lobby decision.  A professional physicians’ association with more than 55,000 members, the group represents 90 percent of board-certified U.S. gynecologists. Their statement explained that “a woman’s boss has no role to play in her personal health care decisions.”

Wooing women with obfuscation, the GOP plans to sponsor a bill stating “no employer can block any employee from legal access to her FDA-approved contraceptives.” Birth control is already legal: Hobby Lobby is about the right of for-profit companies to deny contraception through its insurance.  With the federal government not moving ahead on women’s reproductive rights, states may begin initiating nullification laws against the Hobby Lobby decision.

In the future, a more reasonable Congress might decide that women should have equality in the United States. It’s better than waiting for a constitutional amendment like Citizens United demands.

July 8, 2014

SCOTUS Makes Hobby Lobby Worse

Crazy is the best word to describe last week. During the same week the country celebrated the Fourth of July with noisy fireworks and smoky barbecue grills, five U.S. Supreme Court justices signed away religious rights for a majority of people in the United States. The fourth day of July is an annual commemoration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, a document that delineates the freedoms of people in the nation. The First Amendment separates church and state, declaring that people have freedom of religion among other rights.

On June 30—last week—the five justices gave corporations religious rights by ruling in favor of a privately-held corporation called Hobby Lobby. The decision gives the owners the ability to determine how doctors can provide medical attention to the company’s women employees. Using their personal religious beliefs, Hobby Lobby’s owners, the Green family, objected to two medications, Plan B and Ella, and two different contraceptive IUDs because they have the mistaken belief that these produce abortions.

In fact, an abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. These medications and one IUD actually stop ovulation. There is no death of an embryo because there is no embryo. Trillions of fertilized eggs don’t turn into pregnancies because this requires a women’s uterus. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists filed an amicus brief that stated, “There is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy.” The other IUD keeps the fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus.

The five conservative justices were very clear, however, that this information didn’t matter because it was Hobby Lobby’s “belief” that was at stake. Thus the justices ruled that fact has no value in its decision

The Green family opposed only these four contraceptive methods, but the day after the initial ruling, the five justices gave the Greens another gift. A week ago today, the five justices said the ruling covered all 20 forms of contraception protected through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

That’s not all that Hobby Lobby got from the five justices. The Greens also objected to insurance plans covering “related education and counseling” for contraception. It’s possible that the ruling blocks women from consulting with their doctors about birth control. Although this seems impossible, Kansas already has a state law controlling the information that doctors can give female patients. This would be the beginning of federal control over doctor-patient discussions.

If insurance doesn’t pay for doctors’ appointments that discuss contraception, then the general visit might not be covered by health insurance if women discuss contraception. Without a prescription, women cannot get contraception—which isn’t just a few dollars and certainly not available at the 7-Eleven where Cardinal Timothy Dolan thinks women get their contraceptive medication.

The Supreme Court can make all women in the United States subject to the same Global Gag Rule for nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. assistance. They cannot use separately obtained non-U.S. funds to inform the public or educate their government on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. This restriction on freedom of speech harms the health and lives of women who have less access to family planning services and does not reduce abortion.

Whether the Supreme Court imposed a “U.S. Gag Rule” on women is not clear yet. Their ruling is that Hobby Lobby cannot be forced to pay for medical treatments they find “religiously intolerable.” It’s possible Hobby Lobby may decide that a woman talking to her doctor about contraception is “religiously intolerable.” They may decide that their workers’ receiving contraception from the government is also “religiously intolerable.” Other church-based organizations such as Notre Dame have refused federal accommodation and continue with their lawsuits.

The five justices weren’t finished after that Tuesday decision. On Thursday, they told Wheaton College, a Catholic-based school in Illinois, that they didn’t even have to fill out paperwork to be relieved from providing contraception through its insurance. Without any paperwork from their employer, the school’s female workers may not be able to obtain any contraception from the government, an arrangement that the government had made with religious institutions who didn’t want to provide contraception.

The ruling is not final. It grants an injunction while the Wheaton case moves through lower courts. The basis, however, is that employers’ anti-contraception rights trump workers’ First Amendment freedom of religion rights. Employees lose.

In its original Hobby Lobby decision, the five judges ruled that workers could go to the government. Then they took away that ability to get government relief. The Obama administration had accommodated religiously-identified non-profits by arranging with insurance companies to directly pay coverage instead of through the religious groups. All those organizations had to do was to complete a form certifying the objection. At least 122 non-profits have sued, purporting that signing the opt-out form violates their religious liberty.

Joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Ginsburg, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissent to the Wheaton ruling:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.

“After expressly relying on the availability of the religious-nonprofit accommodation to hold that the contraceptive coverage requirement violates [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] as applied to closely held for-profit corporations, the Court now, as the dissent in Hobby Lobby feared it might, retreats from that position.”

In short, the dissent states that the justices who provided the first Hobby Lobby ruling are dishonest. The highest court in the land that relies on the trust of the public has now lost that trust. Sotomayor wrote that the court’s action “undermines confidence in this institution” and that the public has reason to mistrust the highest level of legal arbiters in the nation. Hobby Lobby may be the tipping point of evidence that the majority of SCOTUS conservative activist justices are so ideological that they cannot be trusted. This follows earlier unconstitutional decisions:

A Rasmussen survey found that 61 percent of the public believe that the justices’ decisions are based on their personal ideological agendas rather than facts and constitutional issues. Last week, they seemed to determine the finding based on their ideology and then flipped the decision for another ruling, again following ideology.

On Monday, Justice Samuel Alito, speaking for the five-member conservative majority, said the ACA’s contraception policy created a “substantial burden” on religious corporations and officials must rely on the “least restrictive” approach to achieving policymakers’ goal. He cited the paperwork compromise process as the “least restrictive” path. Alito said that this policy “achieves all of the government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty.”

Three days later, he joined the other conservative justices in changing their minds about completing the paperwork by granting Wheaton the extremely rare emergency relief, ruling against their Monday ruling. As Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West put it, “Overnight, the cure has become the disease. Having explicitly promised that Hobby Lobby would go no further than Hobby Lobby, the court went back on its word, then skipped town for the summer.”

The justices may be gone until October, but the outrage remains.  Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Mark Udall (D-CO) plan to introduce a bill this week to override the Hobby Lobby decision. It would stop companies from discriminating against female employees in any health coverage guaranteed under federal law. The measure will also state that no federal law, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that SCOTUS used to justify its decision, permits employers to refuse to comply with the health care law’s preventive services requirement. Chief Justice John Roberts suggested during Hobby Lobby’s oral arguments that Congress could exempt the ACA from RFRA. Three representatives will introduce an identical bill in the House. The bills will provide the same exemption for religious nonprofits and houses of worship that the ACA currently has.

I realize that the GOP will block the bills in any way that they can, but at least they will have to declare their opposition to women’s rights.

June 27, 2014

SCOTUS Rewrites Constitution

“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session–U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec 2, cl. 3

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court justices handed down its decision that violent anti-choice protesters can block women from entering women’s clinics, they also ruled—again unanimously—in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the U.S. president’s constitutional rights to make recess appointments should be limited. The case came from President Obama’s recess appointments in 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the GOP members of the senate stopped the board from functioning because they didn’t want to accept any of the president’s nominees.

The question of legal appointments arose after a NLRB ruling against Noel Canning because of its unfair labor practices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NLRB that Noel Canning was wrong but agreed with Noel Canning that the NLRB lacked a quorum because three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed. Both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court ruled that a three-day recess is not long enough for the president to make appointments.

The ruling may require the NLRB to reconsider as many as 800 cases that were made with appointees that the Supreme Court has now determined to be invalid.

When the president made the appointments to the NLRB, the filibuster of 60 votes for approval of nominees, now eliminated, was still in effect. In addition, the senate has approved two of the three appointments that the president made at that time; the other one no longer sits on the board. The question of the appointments’ appropriateness came when the GOP refused to recess while they were out of town. Despite a 30-day recess, a senator conducted a “pro forma session” every three days by strolling into the chamber, pounding the gavel, and then closing the session within a few minutes. The only purpose was to block presidential appointments: there was no business conducted: presidential messages could not be placed before the senate, the chamber was almost empty, and attendance was not required.

GOP senators never objected to the specific nominees. They just wanted to stop the NLRB from functioning, and it couldn’t function without members. After the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the appointments were illegal, President Obama re-nominated his appointees. The GOP senators filibustered again, and the Democratic senators changed senate rules to require only 50 votes to invoke cloture on executive and judicial nominations. Along with other delayed nominees, the NLRB appointees moved forward.

The SCOTUS decision is the first time in the 225 years of the constitution that the Court has considered recess appointments. Its ruling read, “The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length.” It defines “intra-session” recess as “breaks in the midst of a formal session” and “intersession” as “breaks between formal sessions of the Senate.” The majority of justices determined that the president can make recess appointments if the senate takes a break between sessions or takes time off during a session, but the recess must be at least ten days.

So the president, according to the majority opinion, still holds the power to make recess appointments to vacancies when the Senate is either taking a break between sessions or taking time off during a session–if it’s at least ten days. The president is not prone to making recess appointments. He’s made only 29, far fewer than George W. Bush’s 171 and Ronald Reagan’s 243.

About 1,200 executive-branch positions require senate approval. The chamber could spend all its time on the constitution’s  “advise and consent” mandate. In the 21st century, the process is more a method for senators to vent their ire on a president of the opposing party. Even worse than voting down nominees, the GOP senators during President Obama’s terms have followed a passive-aggressive approach of refusing to vote. Their refusal for not taking a vote for the NLRB was not unique. They were so intent on killing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that they didn’t approve a director for 18 months. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years after the position was mandated to have senate approval. Only after the NRA lifted its objections was the president able to get a director for this agency.

By 5-4, a minority of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia failed to overturn the lower court ruling that the president could not make any recess appointments except at the end of each year. They also failed to deny all recess appointments except when the vacancies were created while the senate was in full recess between sessions.

The constitution empowers the senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings, but SCOTUS has removed that right. If the minority position ha succeeded, as Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, “Justice Scalia would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era. More than that: Calling the Clause an ‘anachronism,’ he would basically read it out of the Constitution.”

SCOTUS’ ruling in Noel Canning also mandated that recesses of fewer than 10 days between sessions are “presumptively” too short to count in the constitutional reappointment right. Yet the Court stated that it must defer heavily to the Senate’s authority to determine “how and when to conduct its business.” Thus the justices said that they won’t tell the senate what to do, but they decided a minimum of recess of ten days for appointments. They have removed the right of the senate to set rules and rewritten the constitution.

There’s a definite irony here: the four justices who want to totally rewrite the constitution by eliminating any recess appointments are the originalists—meaning that they believe rulings should be based on what the authors actually meant. In many cases, they must be channeling the writers’ thoughts because the document doesn’t deal with much of 21st century life.

At this time, the Democratic senate can bring up a vote for nominees because they are the same party as the president. If the GOP takes over the senate in this year’s election, the Senate will probably refuse to hold any votes for appointments. In the future, a House of Representatives can demand adjournment for the senate if it is the same party as the president. If the two chambers disagree, the president can then exercise constitutional authority to unilaterally adjourn Congress for a recess, as the Supreme Court ruled. Unless other justices decide to re-write the constitution in this issue too. The Vacancies Act allows the president to fill vacancies—except in multimember agencies which the NLRB and other important agencies are.

As in yesterday’s ruling that erased buffer zones around Massachusetts’ women’s clinics, the justices showed themselves ignorant of reality. GOP members have been so intent on politicizing the appointment process that they are willing to destroy the United States. Yet, the ruling stated, “Most appointments are not controversial and do not produce friction between the branches.” That’s what this case was about. The justices showed no awareness of the recent senate obstruction of the confirmation process, so much so that routine appointments have been mired in controversy.

Reforms to the filibuster process were necessary because almost half of all cloture motions even considered on nominations in the history of the country were made after Barack Obama became president. Last month 110 executive branch nominees were pending, compared to 32 at the same point in George W. Bush’s second term.

As one senator blatantly said, his reason for opposing appointments to the NLRB was to make the agency “inoperable.” Without the recess appointments for a quorum, the senate could have stopped the NLRB for 2,885 days since 1988—almost eight years. Forty-four senators signed a letter to the president admitting that they opposed Richard Cordray to head the CFPB because of their opposition to the agency.

This is another roadblock that conservatives put in the way of the president carrying out his duties. The only hope with this ruling is that it puts the blame squarely on the senate for the failure to fill federal positions. That chamber is now responsible for failures in the confirmation process.

April 25, 2014

Justices Need Mandated Code of Conduct

The job of judges is to determine whether laws are constitutional. The United States has an elaborate judicial system that terminates in the U.S. Supreme Court where nine president-appointed and Senate-approved justices are the final say for everything. They can stop fairness in voting, permit unlimited, hidden campaign donations, and reinstate racist policies just by having a majority—usually five justices—ruling in favor of or against a position and calling it constitutional.

A series of studies may show how the justices determine what they consider “constitutional.” A phenomenon called “motivated reasoning” indicates that brains are not capable of disinterested reasoning. Brains reject information not in accord with strongly held beliefs. For example, common conservative misconceptions such as the beliefs that President Obama is a Muslim or the healthcare act authorizes “death panels” are perpetuated, no matter how much factual information people are provided.

Liberals also suffer from “motivated reasoning.” The brains of strong partisans of either parties resist unflattering information about their party’s presidential candidate. Yale Law Professor Dan Kahan and three colleagues studied this by taking brain scans of these people while processing negative information about the preferred candidate. They discovered that the area of the brain connected with calm, reasoned activity demonstrated little activity while processing this information. When presented with uncomfortable information about a candidate, the portion of the brain connected with emotion distress became active until it found a way to rationalize the material. The centers related to positive feelings then turned on, much in the same way as when drug addicts get their “fix,” according to Westen. Committed partisans are addicted to retraining their commitments.

When approving Supreme Court justices, senators have tried to select ones that are not ideological wild cards. Although Justice David Souter, a George H.W. Bush nominee, was quite moderate, the GOP began the cry, “No more Souters!”

At the same time, a president works to have ideologically supportive nominees who will not undo his policies. Yet strongly partisan justices are the worst choices for the Supreme Court, that carries a lifetime appointment with no mandate to follow the Code of Conduct required for all other judges. Supreme Court justices answer to no one except their consciences.

Motivated reasoning studies show that these consciences will convince them that their personal partisan preferences provide the correct reason. Studies show that highly partisan justices may more easily reach partisan decisions after listening to strong counterarguments.

The test subjects in the studies usually have strong feelings about the subject. In routine cases, justices may manage a more impartial approach. It is, however, the politically charged decisions that more seriously affect a majority of people in the nation. The Affordable Care Act, abortion, voting rights, business interests, religion, minority rights, marriage equality—all these resonate greatly with a majority of the justices. In almost all cases dealing with these issues, the votes of at least two-thirds of the justices seem to be predetermined before they hear any arguments.

No one points out the peccadilloes of people better than humorists, and Andy Borowitz is one of the best. Here are some of his viewpoints on recent SCOTUS rulings:

About McCutcheon v. FEC that vastly increases the amount of money that the wealthy can donate to political campaigns:

“Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the rationale behind the Court’s decision: ‘In recent years, this Court has done its level best to remove any barriers preventing the wealthiest in our nation from owning our government outright. And while the few barriers that remained were flimsy at best, it was high time that they be shredded as well.’

“Citing the United States Constitution, Justice Roberts wrote, ‘Our founding fathers created the most magnificent democracy in human history. Now, thanks to this decision, the dream of owning that democracy is a reality.’

“Justice Antonin Scalia also weighed in, telling reporters at the Court, ‘After all the pro-gay decisions we’ve been making around here lately, it was nice to finally have a win for the good guys.’”

About Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus that SCOTUS heard last week regarding whether political campaign advertising can knowingly lie. The ruling has not yet been announced.

“The Court [argued] that ‘any attempt to restrict or punish lying by politicians is an unconstitutional infringement on a religion they have practiced for decades.’

“The Court’s decision won praise from politicians of both parties, with many saying that the Justices’ recognition of lying as a religion was ‘long overdue.’

“Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts argued, ‘For politicians, lying is a religious observance akin to attending a church or a synagogue, except that they do it seven days a week.’”

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thompson have been the most open outside the court to announce their opinions. Both Scalia and Thomas take money from right-wing groups before judging on cases in which their decisions directly benefit these groups. Any judge outside the Supreme Court would be required to recuse themselves in these cases.

Thomas’ wife, Ginni Thomas, has been instrumental in founding and operating far-right groups with anonymous donations made possible by Citizens United, which Justice Thomas helped pass in 2010.

Scalia suggested that people “revolt” if they think their taxes are too high. He made this comment at the same time that Cliven Bundy called the radical self-appointed militia to help him in his revolt against paying his debts to the government.

While Scalia distorts the constitution, he rails against any judges who disagree with him, calling them “activist judges” and saying that judges like these started the Holocaust. He also talks about the importance of “natural law,” which translates as Biblical or Christian law with no respect for civil law.

Another current case in which Scalia has a conflict of interest is McCullen v. Coakley, deciding on whether women’s clinics in Massachusetts can be allowed buffer zones. Scalia’s wife, Maureen Scalia, is an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy counselor” for the anti-abortion group Nurturing Network. The purpose of these crisis pregnancy clinics is to stop women from terminating their pregnancies.

Many Supreme Court justices can no longer put aside their viewpoints, usually far right, in making their decisions. The rulings have shown a strong pro-business bent to the detriment of citizens’ civil rights. It’s time to pass a law forcing them to follow the same Code of Conduct that all other judges in the United States must comply with instead of letting them run amok.

April 10, 2014

A Few Steps Forward in Protection from Guns

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:50 PM
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Twenty-four people were wounded yesterday in horrific stabbings at a Pennsylvania school. Those who oppose any gun control say, “See! It’s not guns that are the problem.” They point out that a student was stabbed to death in school last September. Yet that’s only one person, compared to the thousands of people who die every year because of guns.

Guns kill far more people in the United States than knives: guns cause two-thirds of the homicides whereas only 13.4% of murders result from knives or other cutting instruments.  Of 37 public mass killings since 2006, 33 involved firearms, the other four being the Boston Marathon bombings, an incident involving a car, and two cases of arson. Far more suicides come from guns than sharp objects.

Even worse may be the “accidental” deaths because of people’s carelessness. In Arizona, a man’s Glock pistol falls from his waistband, and his three-year-old son picks it up, shooting himself in the head and killing himself. That happened five days before Christmas last year. State Rep. Victoria Steele introduced a bill, similar to laws in 28 states, that would make it a crime to store an unsecured loaded gun where children might be. There was never a hearing.

What got hearings in the Arizona legislature were speeded-up permits for specialized high-caliber weapons such as machine guns and fines for city council members who try to pass stricter gun laws than from the state. At least 32 Arizona children were killed in 2012. Fifty percent of these were by a gun that belonged to the child’s biological parent. Nationwide, at least 134 children accidentally died from gunshots in 2010, a number most likely undercounted by half because of misleading reporting and not counting seriously injured children. Like the three-year-old Arizona child who shot himself in the “lower torso” by one of the many unsecured guns in the home.

Todd Rathner, a member of the NRA’s board of directors, thinks that people with guns should have the entire family trained for safety, but he doesn’t see a requirement as “the responsibility of the government.” His cop-out is that parents let their children be hurt or killed and that gun deaths shouldn’t be singled out. Actually, many laws do protect children from irresponsible parents.

Fortunately, some progress—or at least a bit of holding ground—has been made in protecting people from shootings, such as a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

A federal law prevents people convicted of domestic violence from owning guns. Several courts, including the supposedly-liberal U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled that this ban only refers to convictions that involved a “violent use of force.” In a surprising unanimous ruling, SCOTUS overturned these rulings by determining that the ban applied to everyone who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of DV without proof of violent acts of physical injury.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said:

“Domestic violence is not merely a type of ‘violence.’ It is a term of art encompassing acts that one might not characterize as ‘violent’ in a non-domestic context [and includes acts such as] pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting.”

The ruling in U.S. vs. Castleman brings back the illegal gun possession charges against the Tennessee man who pled guilty to causing “bodily injury” to his child’s mother and was later charged with violating the law by possessing firearms. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court dismissed charges because of no proof that he had “violent contact with the victim.”

Washington state now requires people with histories of domestic violence to give up their weapons if they are under no-contact or permanent restraining orders. Gun owners are allowed to participate in a hearing to contest the order. The impetus for the law, unanimously passed in both houses, came from Stephanie Holton’s telling about her husband threatening to blow off her head as he pointed a gun at her in her living room.

The couple divorced after 12 years of marriage and two children with Stephanie having primary custody. When her ex-husband’s behavior because increasingly erratic, she told a friend, a police officer, who suggested that she file a police report. After her ex-husband came to her house when she wasn’t there, she asked for a protective order and told the judge that she was frightened because he had guns.

Corey Holton came to the house the same day the order was served, ordered her into the house, and forced her to kneel in the living room. Fortunately, the police took him into custody with no more violence, and he has been sentenced to 75 months in prison with a lifetime no-contact order involving Stephanie.

The 9th Circuit Court upheld a San Francisco ordinance requiring that people must either lock up guns or keep them on their person while at home as well as the city code that prohibits the sale of hollow-point bullets which expand inside a target. Gun owners and the NRA tried to maintain that the Second Amendment allows hollow-point bullets and unlimited gun storage. The ordinance allows people to buy hollow-point bullets outside the city and bring them back to their homes. The losers have promised to appeal. Earlier this year, the court ruled that people can carry guns outside their homes.

Last month, Milwaukee (WI) County Circuit Judge Michael Guolee ruled in favor of two police officers in a lawsuit against former gun dealers and their owners who had moved for summary judgment. The case, filed by two officers injured by weapons bought from Badger Guns, is now headed for a trial. Two other officers also received a ruling to go to trial in a similar case. Badger Guns and Badger Outdoors have been top sellers of guns used in crimes recovered by Milwaukee police for more than a decade.

In 2005, Badger Outdoors was the top U.S. seller of guns used in crimes with 537 weapons traced back to the company. ATF investigators recommended that the company’s license be revoked in 2006, but the store simply changed to Badger Guns because the son of Badger Outdoors’ owner obtained a new license. When ATF revoked his license for Badger Guns in 2011, his brother opened Brew City Shooters Supply in 2012.

In at least 50 cases across the country, people with revoked licenses maintain a close relationship to the gun-selling operation. Congress has limited ATF’s authority to gather evidence in finding these places and closing them down.

The killing of four men at Fort Hood last week brought out an uncharacteristic statement from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH): “There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons.” He thought the bill to prevent a Medicare reimbursement cut to doctors also contained funding for pilot programs studying the link between gun violence and mental illness, but it didn’t. His speech also blamed the VA for the shooting because the House wants to make it easier for the department’s secretary to fire senior officials.

Fox’s American News HQ wanted a guest to call for arming all the military on posts. Instead retired four-star general Jack Keane said:

“I don’t believe our soldiers should be armed on the base. […] Can you imagine the first responders coming on a scene, and there’s people shooting all over the place, and they have to determine who is friend and who is foe? I think the potential for leading to more violence by arming everybody is rather significant.”

Fox made the same claim about Navy Yard shooting, not knowing that some of the victims were armed personnel. Keane continued to point out that soldiers aren’t trained to control and de-escalate a situation as police are. The woman who stopped the Fort Hood shooter was a trained MP.

People who equate more guns with less violence are operating in an extremely simplistic fashion, assuming that every person with a gun carefully evaluates the situation and respond in a calm and appropriate manner. It’s the reverse: more guns = more violence.

March 23, 2014

Religion Tied to Contraception, Missing Aircraft, Teaching, Parades

Two big religious stories are in the news this week. One is the question of whether private businesses who declare themselves as “religious persons” have the right to deny employees equal health care to that from other businesses. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga maintain that they shouldn’t have to allow their insurance to cover free contraception because they are opposed to contraception. The case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The 2,000 sisters of the National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN) oppose the denial of contraception. Their position is that any group denying contraception in insurance is equivalent to holding women hostage.

In support of the Affordable Care Act provision that mandates birth control coverage, NCAN wrote:

“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives.”

Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, said:

“This has gotten out of hand. It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women… It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”

The nuns aren’t just writing about the problem. They are circulating an online petition to the U.S. Supreme Court and holding a Faith Rally in front of the Supreme Court building on March 25. The petition states:  “The sin is not a person using birth control. The sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families.” Fourteen religious denominations support free access to birth control as well as the women who are not affiliated with religions.

The second issue is the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.CNN and Fox are determined to connect the disaster with religious beliefs. CNN’s anchor Don Lemon has possible answers for the disappearance. One was a “supernatural” event in which God took it (maybe that it like the rapture! Another was the possibility of a “black hole.”

Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s daughter, blogged that this disappearance is a “small snapshot” of what will happen with the Rapture when millions of Christians miraculously disappear. At least, CNN didn’t use this “information” as “news.”

Fox “News” Bill Hemmer used historic comparisons to discuss the long time it may take to find the aircraft. “It took us what 100 years to find the Titanic? It took us 2,000 years to find Noah’s Ark. Do we ever find Flight 370?” The first is true; the second highly questionable and totally inappropriate when announcing the news. Joe Coscarelli explained that Hemmer was referring to Evangelical Christian explorers, who claimed to have uncovered evidence of the boat’s existence—claims determined to be a hoax even by Fox News.

Bill Maher gave his own version of Noah’s Ark, calling God a “psychotic mass murderer” and the United States a “stupid country” for their belief that the biblical story is factual. Fundamental Christians took offense. Bryan Fischer argued that the story of Noah’s Ark is true and shows human free will choices that forced God to kill very living thing. Maher can say these things and live, said Fischer, because God is merciful, compassionate, and loving. God is patiently giving Maher a chance to repent and ask forgiveness, according to Fischer.

Other people who accept myths as facts are incensed about Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the television sequel to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. The creationist Answers in Genesis complained that Cosmos is not balanced because it doesn’t give airtime for creationism. Cosmos covers a wide range of scientific topics from Earth’s place in the universe to the origin of life. Tyson explained his concept of scientific balance: “You don’t talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let’s give equal time to the flat-earthers.”

A Buddhist student and his parents have won a lawsuit against Negreet High School in Louisiana after the court found that the school violated the student’s religious liberty. According to the decision, sixth-grade science teacher Rita Roark violated the First Amendment when she demanded biblical answers from science questions and called the student “stupid” because he didn’t know religious answers to questions such as the age of the earth. She also maintained in class that evolution is a “stupid theory made up by stupid people who don’t want to believe in God.” When the student’s parents complained, Sabine Parish Superintendent Sara Ebab told them to change their faith to fit “the Bible Belt” or go to another school where “there are more Asians.”

Louisiana District Judge Elizabeth Foote ordered the school to remove all of the Christian propaganda—pictures of Jesus, posters, Bible verses, official prayers, etc.  from the premises. School officials cannot initiate prayers, use class work to promote religion, sponsor a religious belief, or hold religious services at the school. Students are still permitted to pray in school and participate in religious clubs. Further:

“The District and School Board are permanently enjoined from permitting School Officials at any school within the School District to promote their personal religious beliefs to students in class or during or in conjunction with a School Event… School Officials shall not denigrate any particular faith, or lack thereof, or single out any student for disfavor or criticism because of his or her particular faith or religious belief, or lack thereof.”

The ruling demanded that the school pay $4,000 in damages to the student’s parents as well as $40,000 in court costs, a large sum for a school of a little over 500 in a district with about 4,300 students.

In another story from Louisiana, Randy Dill wants to see the Holy Bible made the “official state book,” and he persuaded Rep. Thomas Carmody to file a bill that would make this law. They both think they can succeed because the bible is Alabama’s state bible. Do I sense more lawsuits?

Murfreesboro (TN) has already spent $343,000 in a losing lawsuit to keep the Muslims from building a mosque. Now plaintiffs have gone back to court to stop the “construction and improvement of the cemetery.” The ad at the top of the article reads: “Nobody cares for you like a neighbor.”

Parade bigots who refuse to let LGBT people openly march could take a lesson from NYC Pride, the organization behind New York City’s gay pride parade. The Catholic League, led by bigot Bill Donohue applied for a float in this year’s parade with the banner, “Straight Is Great.” No problem, said the parade coordinators. “Straight is great—as long as there’s no hate.” As NYC Pride’s managing director, Chris Frederick, said:

“Straight allies are great. We have thousands of straight people participating in the Pride March, including Catholic groups, who support LGBT youth, families and married couples.”

Meanwhile Donohue has called on Catholics to boycott Guinness, Sam Adams, and Heineken because he thinks that the LGBT community bullied them to drop their sponsorship for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Boston. According to religious people, the First Amendment only works when it’s in their favor.

February 24, 2014

SCOTUS Refuses Gun Cases; Irresponsible ‘Good Guys’

Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, allowing wealthy people to buy political legislators and judges. Almost a year ago, the court ruled in favor of the LGBT community but against voters’ rights. Today, they rejected two petitions from the NRA about gun rights, showing that they are waiting out the Second Amendment issue—at least for now. The NRA is not happy.

SCOTUS has issued only one ruling on the Second Amendment since its decision almost six years ago that the U.S. Constitution gives individuals the right to have a gun. After the court expanded the Second Amendment beyond federal laws to state and local gun control laws a few years ago, they have stayed silent. That’s what happened today.

Both the petitions that SCOTUS refused had to do with young people from 18 to 20 years old. In one of them, the NRA tried to legalize the sale of handguns to these youth, and the other case challenged Texas laws barring the same people from obtaining license for open carry outside their homes. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals banned members of that age bracket to Second Amendment protections because SCOTUS ruled that only “responsible” people have gun rights.

A third case that SCOTUS refused was against a 1968 law banning all interstate gun sales except by federally-licensed gun dealers. Lane v. Holder tried to get SCOTUS to determine if gun buyers have a legal right to challenge this law. The NRA is still not happy.

 SCOTUS did hear a case last month about the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban which prevents people convicted of DV from owning or possessing a gun. In U.S. v. Castleman, the argument is whether the law applies to Castleman because his conviction does not state whether he used physical force against the victim. Most local jurisdictions resolve misdemeanor domestic violence cases under assault and battery statutes and do not indicate whether physical force was used. The court decision will be issued by early this summer.

In the United States, three women are killed every day by domestic violence. If abusers were re-armed, this number would most likely increase. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in other high-income countries, and victims of domestic violence who live in homes with guns have an eight-fold increase in homicide risk.

Facebook is one place where teens are buying guns because of lax background check laws. A 15-year-old student in Kentucky who bought a 9mm automatic pistol from an Ohio man last October took the gun to his homecoming football game because he wanted to be “cool.” Frederick Stiltner was indicted last week for the crime, but Facebook has not stopped advertising gun sales.

Another reason for mandating universal background checks comes from this recent study in Missouri. In 2007, the state repealed the requirement for background checks except for federally-licensed dealers, permitting private sales through unlicensed sellers without any checks. Since that time, an average of 60 more people have been killed by firearms every year. This 23-percent increase occurs at a time when the overall murder rate in the United States is down by 5 percent. Neighboring states didn’t have any spike in murders during these years, but both Illinois and Kansas experienced increases in confiscated guns from criminals who had come from Missouri. Forty percent of Missouri’s guns are recovered in a crime within two years of the original sale.

Starting in 2010, a project called Trace the Guns identified state laws and the rate of illegal guns going in and out of these states. It’s no surprise that states with the fewest gun laws  and states not requiring background checks ranked higher for the number of crime guns originating from those states. At this time, only 15 states require background checks for gun purchases from unlicensed sellers.

These are a sampling of actions by “responsible” gun owners this month:

 

  • In Arkansas, 48-year-old Willie Noble shot and killed a 15-year-old girl who was egging her friend’s car for a prank in retaliation against one done by the man’s teenage son.
  • In Florida, Marcus Leon Thompson, an off duty corrections officer, was responsible for nine injured people in a café, Shooters Waterfront, when his gun accidentally went off as he reached into his pocket for money and a valet ticket.
  • In California, 34-year-old Brent Posada shot himself with a high-powered air rifle and then told police that a black man had shot him.
  • In North Carolina, Justin Carper’s three-year-old son shot and injured his 17-month-old sister with Carper’s 9mm handgun. Carper writes a column on parenting advice for a local newspaper. A study found that handguns are responsible for more hospitalizations and in-hospital deaths than any other type of weapon.
  • In Michigan, a man shot and killed himself when he was teaching his girlfriend gun safety. He had three pistols and put them to his head, one by one. The gun went off with the third gun.

 

In January, 62-year-old Rodney Bruce Black shot and killed his new neighbor and the neighbor’s brother in West Virginia. The afternoon that they were killed, the two men were inspecting property that one of the men had just purchased. Police took a “large amount” of weapons and ammo from Black’s home.

In Indiana, Police Chief David Counceller, 60, shot himself in the leg with his own Glock handgun as he was looking at weapons in a gun store. Previously he had shot himself in the hand while he was on duty. The town mayor tried to justify Counceller’s accident last month by saying, “Apparently the Glocks don’t have the trigger safety that they should have.”

The people above would fit into NRA Wayne Pierre’s definition of a “good guy with a gun,” those people who wants to protect the U.S. citizens. One “good guy” is 37-year-old Marlo Ellis who was armed with a pistol in the Dollar Store in Orville (AL). When another 37-year-old, Kevin McLaughlin, came into the store and used his gun to force Ellis and a cashier towards a break room, Ellis shot and killed McLaughlin. There was no mention of robbery, just an angry argument.

The “good guy” who did the killing is facing charges of rape in the second degree and enticing a child for immoral purposes. According to court documents, Ellis picked up a girl at school and drove her to his home where he had sex with her. The Dallas County Sheriff’s Department said that they were waiting for forensics and that “there had been [past] allegations against Ellis similar to what he was charged with in this case.” Over three years ago, Ellis had been sentenced for another criminal offense. McLaughlin had no criminal record. Some pro-gun websites claimed that McLaughlin was “hunting for people to shoot.”

Alabama law may prevent law enforcement from revoking Ellis’ concealed handgun permit even with his criminal history and recent indictment for rape. Many people in the United States would agree with a statement made in 1934 by then-NRA president Karl T. Frederick: “I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns.  I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”

The anti-regulation people claim that there are many cases of armed citizens protecting other people. The question is how many of their cases are similar to this one. This is one of the people who Wayne Pierre calls a “good guy.”

June 30, 2013

Christians Respond to SCOTUS DOMA Ruling

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 2:29 PM
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The repeal of DOMA has filled the news during the past week, with Christians taking a big part in responding to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Congressional law mandating marriage to be between one man and one woman.

An Arizona reader of the blog sent me the following communication from her church. She also said that St. Augustine’s Church “rang the church bells … and all the bells and gongs they could find.”

Dear People of God,

I rejoice, along with our LBGT brothers and sisters, over the Supreme Court decisions this morning. Our country has come one step closer to that freedom and justice are for all its citizens. Many LBGT people I know who are my age have commented that they would have never believed that equality under the law would happen for them “in our lifetime.” I can only begin to imagine the full extent of their joy today.

Our country has come closer to a truth which has been ours as Christians from the beginning, that God loves everything and everyone God has made, and that we are called to reflect God’s love for us in how we love each other. Our country is now one step closer to making that possible for everyone. Today Love won.

Faithfully,

The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith

Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

Below is one couple who Smith is describes. Thanks to photographer Ann Hubard, who took this picture at the DOMA Decision Celebration in Portland (OR).

Annies two guys

Despite the support of marriage equality for all from the majority of voters in the United States, there was a dark side as the conservatives expressed themselves with great fear and fury.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) originally agreed with Glenn Beck that the Supreme Court ruling might result in people marry animals. After Paul’s bizarre claim hit the Internet, he must have decided that it might hurt his possibilities of becoming president in 2016 and withdrew his statement. No one, however, can ever erase their stupidity from the web.

Mike Huckabee, former presidential wannabe, was brief in his first tweet: “Jesus wept.” Later he elaborated by accusing the Supreme Court of declaring itself “ bigger than God.” Unfortunately for Huckabee, Jesus said absolutely nothing about marriage equality, but he did say lots about poverty and money-changers.

Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) declared that “society itself is at risk and cannot continue.” At the same press conference, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said that same-sex marriage was “usually tried at the end of a great civilization.” Both comments echoed House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) when he said that “preserving the institution of traditional marriage is crucial to the stability of our society.”

Ralph Reed, leader of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, viewed that SCOTUS’ action as “an Orewellian act of judicial fiat” in its threat to federalism, rule of law, and Western civilization.

The National Organization for Marriage blamed a conspiracy of “homosexual” and “liberal” lower circuit judges for the Court’s rulings. In a peculiar blend of mixed metaphors, Brian Brown, NOM’s president said:

“There is a stench coming from this case that has now stained the Supreme Court. They’ve allowed corrupt politicians and judges to betray the voters, rewarding them for their betrayal.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) declared  that “no man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”

Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association, used the myth that the United States is only a Christian country: “We are deeply saddened by today’s decision to not only allow but encourage same-sex marriage in our country—a country that was founded on biblical principles.”  Once again, Mr. Wildmon, most of the founders were Deists.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) hated the possibility that he might be a bigot, the way that the SCOTUS ruling indicated. “It is … my hope that those who argue for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage will refrain from assailing the millions of Americans who disagree with them as bigots.”

Chris Joseph’s strong satiric channeling of Rubio in the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, was in response to his “I’m not a bigot” statement:

“Those of us who oppose gay marriage aren’t bigots, bro! We’re TOTALLY about constitutional provisions and laws. This has NOTHING to do with our own religious beliefs and us wanting to force those beliefs on other people. That would be wrong. No, no. I’m just about tradition, and not at all involved with gay-hate groups, or basing my reasons on my personal belief that you will burn for all eternity if you’re a gay. I mean, just because one believes that another person is doomed to an eternal place of darkness to suffer forever doesn’t make me hateful at all! Pffft.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) opposed the SCOTUS ruling against DOMA by saying, “I think children will be hurt.” He used as the basis for his myth the erroneous belief that decades of social-science research have “shown that every child deserves a mom and dad.” These lies by people in a situation to help children not only damage the children of same-sex couples but also demonstrate the hypocrisy of conservative lawmakers. If they cared for children, they would not take away their food, shelter, education, healthcare, emotional support, etc.

Pennsylvania Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) is a leading example of the legislators who don’t understand the First Amendment’s position of freedom of religion that some people describe as the separation of church state. When openly gay Rep. Brian Sims (D) tried to speak on the legislature floor about the SCOTUS ruling on DOMA, Metcalfe stopped him because Sims’ comments would be “open rebellion against God’s law.” Metcalfe also stopped two other lawmakers from talking about DOMA.

Despite all these cruel, narrow-minded statements from religious conservatives, there was much joy and a good bit of humor, including from John Oliver, the summer replacement for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

The most important response came from the President of the United States:

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

“This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

“So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

“The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”

Now we wait to see the implementation of the court’s rulings.

[The following was posted on Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-OR) website.]

77441506_24_13_Supreme_Court_Equa_Earl_Quote

June 26, 2013

SCOTUS Awards LGBT Rights; Davis Fights for Women’s Rights

Forty years ago, homosexuals were mentally ill. Ten years ago gays and lesbians were criminals. Today LGBT people can legally marry the people they love. Yesterday was the day that my partner and I celebrate as our anniversary because marriage equality is illegal in Oregon. It was our 44th anniversary. Without the same Social Security benefits that legally married people receive, my partner has lost well over $100,000. We don’t know how much we have lost in other benefits because of the discrimination against same-sex couples.

The Stonewall riots, hailed as the dawning of the gay rights movement, started in New York’s Greenwich Village on June 29, 1963, also 44 years ago. But today is a new day because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1996 federal statute defining marriage as between one woman and one man.

Listening to the U.S. Supreme Court as they dribbled out their rulings for the past session was exactly like riding a rollercoaster: yesterday, they destroyed the voting rights of almost half the people in the country, and today they gave federal rights to all married same-sex couples. They also refused to allow standing of those protesting marriage equality in California so that same-sex couples there might have the right to marry. If that is true, one-third of people in the U.S. will live in a jurisdiction that has legalized marriage equality.

In its traditional 5-4 vote, SCOTUS ruled that, for federal purposes, marriage as defined as being between one man and one woman is unconstitutional. This ruling was in response to a case about Edie Windsor, who was charged federal estate taxes after Thea Spyer, her partner of 44 years, died. Yet they let stand Section 2 of DOMA permitting each state its own definition of marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 26-page opinion, and dissenters Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia, mostly joined by Clarence Thomas, wrote another 47 pages.

Kennedy wrote that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government” and intrudes on the states’ traditional role in defining marriage. His opinion also stated that the law “instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others.”

Confusion will undoubtedly reign after the ruling because Kennedy also wrote, “This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” possibly just those authorized by the state of New York. Yet he also said, “The federal statute [DOMA] is invalid.” This is a very broad ruling, which is why Scalia, in particular, was apoplectic.

Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas opined that the court should not have taken the case because the House of Representatives had no right to appeal lower court decisions after President Obama stopped defending DOMA. Justice Samuel Alito disagreed, saying Congress did have that power. Whether or not it had any right to appeal, the House spent $2.3 of taxpayers’ money to support DOMA in the courts.

The majority did rule on the lack of standing in the case about California’s Prop. 8, stating that the private proponents of the measure, many of them living outside California, lacked the legal right to defend the proposition in federal courts. Supposedly, this ruling from SCOTUS did not change the district judge’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. Dissenters in SCOTUS on the Prop 8 case were an odd mix: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito in disagreeing with the majority that included the ultra-conservative Scalia.

Although there may be more litigation regarding Prop 8, the governor told clerks that they would start issuing marriage licenses after the 9th Circuit Court takes care of its paperwork by lifting a year-long order that stopped the ban from going into effect until the Supreme Court reviewed the case. There might be a question about whether District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had the right to overturn Prop 8 for the entire state or for just his jurisdiction. The only definite conclusion is that the two couples in the Prop 8 case before SCOTUS will receive marriage licenses from the Clerks of Alameda and Los Angeles Counties.

How people would vote today in California, no one knows, polls show a movement toward majority acceptance of marriage equality; many people voted in favor of Prop 8 because of the lies from supporters about effects of marriage equality; and the Mormon Church, that paid as much as 70 percent of the campaign funds to support Prop 8, may not be as generous another time around.

With California now considered to accept marriage equality, 13 states and a few other jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C. and Native American reservations, have legalized same-sex marriage. This is one of the best maps describing the different same-sex couple laws across the U.S.

The hope is that same-sex couples may now start having rights in the military and in immigration that were prevented before this ruling. As Kennedy said in his ruling, “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways…from the mundane to the profound. He mentioned healthcare, tax preparation, Social Security, and other benefits—even a person’s child can legally be kidnapped by an unmarried spouse.

A New York City immigration judge immediately stopped the deportation proceedings of Steven, a Colombian man legally married to Sean Brooks. The Center for American Progress has 14 fact sheets showing federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now have.

One expects crackpot responses to SCOTUS, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) may have achieved the strangest one in a performance on the Glenn Beck when the presidential wannabe asked of marriage, “Does it have to be humans?” (I’ll have another batch of crazy comments in my upcoming Sunday “religion” blog.)

The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings overshadowed a mind-blowing event in Texas. State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-TX) filibustered an unbelievable vicious, evil woman-hating anti-abortion in the state’s Senate. The bill stops abortions at 20 weeks as well as closes 37 clinics, leaving only five clinics that provide abortions throughout a state that is 773 miles wide and 790 miles long. Some of the 26 million people would have to drive 600 miles in order to have the opportunity to comply with a federal law.

The term “filibuster” has gained a benign connotation because of the U.S. Senate rules that allows one senator to call from his comfortable couch to say “I filibuster” and then return to the sports channel. Filibuster in this case means that Davis stood–with no support, no leaning, no bathroom breaks, no food, no liquid, no nothing—for almost 12 hours and talked about the bill and nothing else. She even got one violation for talking about sonograms although that’s part of the anti-abortion game in Texas.

Davis had to last until midnight to keep the chamber from voting before the deadline of the special session. Her third “violation,” another being when a colleague touched her when fascinating her a back brace, came before midnight, but hundreds of protesters disrupted the vote, shouting “Let her speak,” so that the vote could not be started until after the deadline.

At this time, events become even more bizarre. The vote on the bill wasn’t finished until a few minutes after midnight. In their eagerness to terrorize women, however, Republican senators changed the time stamp to before midnight, thinking that this would pass the bill.

After images of both the before and after images of the stamp change were posted on the Texas Tribune’s live blog showing the accurate time stamp of 12:02 am, the Senate went into a closed-door caucus. At 3:00 am, they said that the bill did not pass because Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst didn’t have time to sign it before midnight. Nothing about changing the time stamp.

In an ironic twist, Davis could be redistricted from her Fort Worth area after SCOTUS ruled yesterday that Texas can do gerrymandering districts. The state failed earlier because of the now-overturned Voting Rights Act.

More than 150,000 people watched the livestreamed session. Even President Obama tweeted his support for Davis. Gov. Rick Perry has declared a 30-day special session starting on July 1 to “address” the anti-abortion bill because the legislature needs to maintain “decency.” Nothing about the “decency” of illegally changing the timestamp for the vote.

It’s the GOP strategy: vote; if it fails, cheat; if that fails, hold another vote. The House has done it 37 times on Obamacare.

June 25, 2013

SCOTUS Accelerates ‘War on Voting’; Displays ‘Hubris’

The Supreme Court has delivered its long-awaited decision on the Voting Rights of Act of 1965 that required some jurisdictions to obtain “pre-clearance” from the Department of Justice before changing their voting laws. The conservative majority, except Clarence Thomas, agreed that the U.S. praised the VRA because racial prejudice still exists. Yet its 5-4 ruling struck down Section 4, considered out of date, as unconstitutional, leaving Section 5 intact.

It’s an odd twist: Section 4 provides the formula and the locations for Section 5. That means that the pre-clearance directive remains but without any criteria. SCOTUS suggests that Congress pass a different formula for Section 5.

A competent Congress could do this, but the current federal legislative branch has an extremist caucus that uses of extortion, hostage-taking, and inertia to control those who actually wish to govern. The House cannot even pass a farm bill. With the GOP in the majority of many states, particularly the South, Republicans will avoid any voting legislation. To restrict voting rights will bring down the wrath of the Justice Department; to allow minorities an equal right to vote will result in the wrath of the conservative electorate.

VRA was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes to voting laws between 1982 and 2006, over 80 percent of them on the local level. Last year, the act stopped a voter identification law in Texas and elimination of early voting days in Florida. The case that SCOTUS heard from Shelby County (AL) tried to eliminate the only black city council in Calera. Just five months ago, a majority of the states in the nation worked to suppress votes from minorities and the poor.

Surveying data on racial stereotypes from the 2008 election, law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer found that it is consistent with “the geography of anti-black prejudice.” In one day, SCOTUS destroying the progress of the past 100 years, repeating the failings of Giles v. Harris that upheld poll taxes and literacy taxes 110 years ago. The burden of proof has moved to those who are discriminated against, rather than those performing the discrimination. The next step will be to erase the rest of VRA.

Almost six months ago, Ari Berman described the problems:

“a whiter, more Southern, more conservative GOP that has responded to demographic change by trying to suppress an increasingly diverse electorate; a twenty-five-year effort to gut the VRA by conservative intellectuals, who in recent years have received millions of dollars from top right-wing funders, including Charles Koch; and a reactionary Supreme Court that does not support remedies to racial discrimination.”

Within an hour of the ruling’s announcement, Texas moved forward with its voter ID law that can disenfranchise 800,000 voters, according to Attorney General Greg Abbott. They will also put into effect the gerrymandered redistricting maps to ensure that each district has sufficient GOP voters to keep that party in control of the state legislature and the U.S. representatives.

Mississippi and Alabama will move forward with their voter ID law. Alaska has also targeted blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans in its restrictive laws. Among the 31 states requiring voter ID are WisconsinOhioNorth Carolina, and Michigan.

 

These voting restrictions will continue to cross the nation:

Strict voter ID laws:  For example, Virginia will abandon the DOJ-required flexible law for the much tougher 2013 photo ID-only restrictions. Any challenge to the law must require a disenfranchised voter to sue and prove injury.

Racially-gerrymandered legislative maps:  When Texas based its redistricting plans on race, it was blocked because of racial gerrymandering. Judge Thomas Griffith, appointed by George W. Bush, said that black districts were cut off from representatives’ offices while districts of white Congress members were either not touched or “redrawn to include particular country clubs and, in one case, the school belonging to the incumbent’s grandchildren.” Again, Texas is is not unique. A study shows that gerrymandering is the reason that Democrats won the popular vote for House candidates but the majority of representatives are GOP.

Blocking grassroots get-out-the-votes efforts:  Arizona Republicans are ready with their proposal to undermine voter turnout efforts in Latino communities by making it a felony for anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a political committee or other organization to deliver mailed ballots to a polling place. In the last election, Sheriff Joe Arpaio won by a narrow margin after a large number of Latino ballots were considered provisional, meaning that the state would not count them.

Chris Hayes described the decision as “one of the most stunning exercises in ‘judicial activism’ ever.” This term was coined by the far-right to complain about any decisions that they didn’t like, but there’s a different definition. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act and then re-approved it four more times, each time with large bipartisan majorities. In 2006, the Senate, in a unanimous vote of 98-0, and the House, in a vote of 390-33, renewed the VRA until 2031. Presidents from both parties have also supported VRA. SCOTUS’ ruling said that the country needs this guidance but they don’t approve of where the guidance is being applied. That’s judicial activism.

Constitutional Accountability Center’s David Gans explained another indication of “judicial activism.” He said that Chief Justice John Roberts described Section 4 of the VRA as unconstitutional without explaining how this was true. Roberts’ opinion stated that the VRA provision is not consistent with the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and wrote about state sovereignty. Yet the Fifteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to prevent racial discrimination in voting.  In fact, the ruling seems to unconstitutional in itself: the VRA is legal. It’s just that Roberts has hated the Voting Rights Act for over 30 years when he worked for Ronald Reagan.

President Obama made the following statement this morning:

“I am deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today. For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act–enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress–has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans. Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists. And while today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination. I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My Administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg summarized the ruling: “Hubris is a fit word for today’s demolition of the VRA.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) wasted no time in declaring that Congress will take action:

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act has protected minorities of all races from discriminatory practices in voting for nearly 50 years, yet the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the coverage formula effectively guts the ability of Section 5 to protect voters from discriminatory practices. I could not disagree more with this result or the majority’s rationale. The Voting Rights Act has been upheld five times by the Supreme Court on prior occasions, and Section 5 was reauthorized and signed into law by a Republican President in 2006 after a thorough and bipartisan process in which Congress overwhelmingly determined that the law was still vital to protecting minority voting rights and that the coverage formula determining the jurisdictions to be covered was still applicable.

“Several lower court decisions in recent years have found violations of the Voting Rights Act and evidence of intentional discrimination in covered jurisdictions. Despite this sound record, and the weight of history, a narrow majority has decided today to substitute its own judgment over the exhaustive legislative findings of Congress.

“As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I intend to take immediate action to ensure that we will have a strong and reconstituted Voting Rights Act that protects against racial discrimination in voting.”

What are potential solutions to this destruction?

 A New Act of Congress:  As we have said, this will be difficult.

“Bail-In” Lawsuits: Section 3 of the VRA allows federal courts to put jurisdictions back into pre-clearance if it finds violations of Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment. It has rarely been used, meaning that it has little precedent.

Fixing The Judiciary: Another difficult fix, this requires approval of nominations by the Senate.

The right wing has accused the Voting Rights Act of using a hatchet instead of a scalpel to fix laws that eviscerate voting rights for minorities. With yesterday’s and today’s decisions against minorities, the Supreme Court is guilty of using a hatchet to murder any way that minorities and women can find recourse through the courts for wrongs against them.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has dropped his investigation into the IRS and the privacy of the press scandals and gone back to Benghazi. With this SCOTUS ruling, I think that he’s not going to get much publicity.

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