Nel's New Day

November 8, 2022

Supreme Court Addresses Race, Rights

SCOTUS will hear two more landmark cases this week. The first, on November 8, decides whether over 76 million low-income people in the U.S. could be stripped of Medicaid healthcare. The majority of justices, even some conservative ones, seemed reluctant to gut the program by saying that people couldn’t file a lawsuits for their rights under the law although they may determine that nursing home residents can use only administrative process to enforce the law. At this time, Section 1983 permits lawsuits for the enforcement. Only JusticesClarence Thomas and Samuel Alito might disagree. Justice Amy Coney Barrett seemed to join the three other women while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh just asked about how Medicaid law should be enforced, appearing to assume that the law is enforceable.

A “conditional grant” program, Medicaid provides money to states, $670 billion in 2020, and funding includes general requirements governing its operation. In Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County v. Talevski, the plaintiffs are suing the Indiana health system for using psychotropic drugs as “convenience” to keep Gorgi Talevski, a dementia patient, docile with psychotropic drugs, a violation of Medicaid law. The health system asks the Supreme Court to remove all ability for patients to bring lawsuits for law violations protecting nursing home patients.

Making Medicaid law unenforceable would remove the legal requirement that patients receive coverage and overturn a half-century of precedents, something the conservative Supremes is comfortable doing, by returning to decisions from the 1800s. A decision against Medicaid leaves patients open to abuse from health providers and state health officials. Three justices have already argued that “the modern jurisprudence permitting [Medicaid] beneficiaries to sue does not generally apply to contracts between a private party and the government.” Technically, any government official, such as Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis could remove health benefits from a class of people, violating federal law but blocking people from suing for their rights.

In another case before SCOTUS this week, justices will decide whether children can be removed from families in the Native American tribes. The government forced Indian children into boarding schools or white families with the purpose to assimilate and Christianize them until blocked by the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Before the law, 25 percent to 35 percent of all Native children had been removed from their family and put into foster homes, adoptive homes, or institutions. They lost their language, culture, and religion.

Three families are arguing against ICWA before the Supreme Court, one of them a white evangelical couple taking a Navajo and Cherokee 10-month-old in 2016 to “rectify our blessings.” They were told they couldn’t adopt the baby because of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) but went to court a year later to fight ICWA. The tribe finally backed down. Federal law requires all removed children to be placed with family, if at all possible, but a Native Minnesota woman was forced to fight in the courts for years to be allowed to take her grandchild. The Supreme Court could take her child away from her. Cases of children who don’t need to be removed and overlooked relatives as foster placements are common, especially in Black and Indigenous families.

The plaintiffs are supported by wealthy, well-oiled right-wing organizations claiming that keeping Native children with members of their tribes is race discrimination against non-Native parents and an overly intrusive federal government. Native Americans maintain that tribes need their children for their continued existence. The case goes far beyond keeping children in their culture; it could go down the path to remove tribal rights beyond child welfare: water, land, gaming, policing, and Native sovereignty itself. Defendants argue that the case is not about racial discrimination but about political status, that they are “members of quasi-sovereign tribal entities whose lives and activities are governed by the BIA in a unique fashion.” Tribes have their Indian Health Services clinics, courts, elections, and police forces. The right-wing groups could erase these. In short, conservative whites want to eliminate Native American heritage.

Last week, the Supremes discussed stripping any part of race from college admissions. Two key cases concerned policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Republicans have worked toward that end for several decades, and the use of race has been greatly watered down. Both education experts and the public agree that racially diverse college campuses benefit all students, but the public wants it to happen by magic without “discriminating” against whites. Asian Americans support affirmative action to diversity populations, but right-wingers use them as the victims of the practice.

One person who doesn’t believe in diversity is Justice Clarence Thomas, who acknowledges that affirmative action policies helped his entrance into Yale University and called it “the taint of racial preference.” It most likely put him on the Supreme Court in 1991 when he took the position left by Thurgood Marshall. Four other conservative justices received privilige affirmative action, and Barrett was awarded her job with millions of dark money advertising for her appointment and confirmation.

The six conservative Supremes seemed ready to toss the use of race in a factor in college admissions. Barrett said, “Achieving diversity and diverse student populations in universities has been difficult.” Her solution is to not bothering to solve it. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also wants to know how to stop affirmative action. The conservative approach toward racism is to declare it doesn’t exist; Justice Samuel Alito maintains it victimizes white people.

White supremacists want to do away with affirmative action because elite universities are the conduits to leadership in government, politics, and private business as well as higher incomes and economic mobility. Keeping schools white keeps control of these areas white. Of lawyers arguing before SCOTUS, 81 percent are white and three-fourths are male. 

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case because she sits on the school’s board but pointed out that students get into schools because of their family ties. She asked why lineage put one student into the school but denied the lineage of the other one because slavery or discrimination prohibited their ancestors were attending.  

This week, Jackson wrote her first opinion on the high court, a two-page dissent over the court’s refusal to hear a death row inmate appeal. She stated the lower court applied the wrong legal standard and should review the case. Names of the refusers are not made public, but court rules means that fewer than four justices voted to hear it. Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Jackson’s dissent. The man on death row asserted that prosecutors didn’t tell him that their key witness had a serious intellectual disability. Jackson pointed out that the GOP majority of justices doesn’t always bother with existing law and longstanding legal principles.

While hearing cases, justices are also accepting and rejecting appeals:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) must testify before the Fulton County (GA) grand jury regarding criminal election interference about his statements about finding ballots after DDT’s 2020 loss in the state. Thomas gave him a short reprieve in his appeal from his failed decisions from a federal district court and the 11th Circuit Court, but the Supreme Court rejected his request to block the subpoena. Graham may be questioned as soon as November 17; he can invoke the 5th Amendment to avoid self-incrimination, incriminating on its own. The background.

Roberts accepted DDT’s emergency appeal to block a House committee from obtaining his IRS records by creating a temporary hold on the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court ruling that the committee has broad authority to obtain tax returns: the committee has authority over taxation law. Roberts indicated it gives SCOTUS time to weigh the issues. The committee needs to respond by November 10. In 2019, the Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, obtained DDT’s personal and business tax records as part of a criminal investigation. At that time, the Supreme Court rejected DDT’s arguments of having broad presidential immunity. No other resident of the White House has denied making his tax returns public.

Justice Elena Kagan ordered a temporary block after an emergency appeal from Arizona’s GOP chair Kelli Ward to stop the House January 6 investigative committee from receiving phone and text records until SCOTUS settles the issue. The 9th Circuit Court had confirmed a U.S. district judge’s decision approving the committee receiving the records. Requested records do not include content or location information. Ward and her husband, Michael Ward, served as DDT’s fake electors for the state and talked to DDT and his staff members about Arizona’s election certification. In her testimony before the committee, she invoked her Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions because her answers would incriminate her.

Last Friday, Barrett declined to block President Joe Biden’s student relief plan—for the second time. This decision leaves student loan forgiveness on hold from a separate challenge brought by six GOP-led states after an 8th Circuit Court judge granted a stay. As of last week, 26 million people applied for the program. Those behind the lawsuits suffer from a lack of standing, proof that the loan relief brings them harm. Private loans are not being canceled, leaving their lenders such as Pacific Legal Foundation with no reason to object. The two Indiana borrowers claiming they would be harmed because the state would make them pay taxes on the forgiveness aren’t required to participate in loan relief, leaving them without standing. Meanwhile applicants must wait for a ruling because six states are also suing.  

Tomorrow’s topic: whither democracy.

October 24, 2022

SCOTUS Justice Favors Graham, Other Rulings

British Prime Minister Update: Since yesterday, Penny Mordaunt has dropped out of the race, leaving Rishi Sunak the leader for Britain’s third leader in under two months.

The Supreme Court is not hearing arguments for a couple of week, but justices are making decisions. Justice Clarence Thomas just saved Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) from the horrors of testifying to the Fulton County (GA) grand jury, at least temporarily. The jury is investigating the attempts of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and his allies—including Graham—to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Thomas’ edict reverses a unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court, two of them DDT appointees; Graham claims that sitting senators are exempt from any questions about the events.

The jury is seeking information about Graham’s phone calls after the election to Georgia Secretary of State and his staff when he talked about absentee ballots and voter fraud. Graham has been dodging the subpoena for his testimony for several months, claiming that his calls to Georgia were part of his job. A district judge ruled that Graham couldn’t be asked about the election certification, but other topics such as the reason for raising the issues and his communication with DDT were acceptable for questioning. Thomas was able to temporarily block the subpoena because he is assigned to the 11th Circuit Court covering Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. A justice can unilaterally act on a stay or submit it to the court for a vote.

Once again, Thomas has proved his conflicts of interest. His wife was part of the plot to overturn the presidential election, the subject of Graham’s subpoena, and Thomas made the decree regarding without support of any other justices. Although the Supreme Court justices have no code of ethics, a justice is legally required to recuse themself for a conflict of interest.

Thomas’ refusal to save DDT in the Mar-a-Lago document fiasco was a flip from his protection of Graham. DDT had delivered a request to the conservative justice, asking the Supreme Court to permit his special master to review 100 classified documents seized from DDT’s club instead of turning them over to the FBI. The 11th Circuit Court overturned the order from DDT’s pet judge Aileen Cannon to give the materials to the special master. Last January, all the justices except Thomas refused to block the disclosure of presidential records from the National Archives to the House January 6 investigating committee.

The Supreme Court vacated the 3rd Circuit Court ruling that Pennsylvania could count undated mail-in ballots. The law requires the voter to put the date on the envelope. The former decision can no longer be used as a precedent in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania to permit counting of ballots with such errors. The high court did not deal with permission for voters to go to the Board of Elections to “cure” ballots by adding the date, signing a security envelope, or other provisions.

In November, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio will be using gerrymandered congressional districts that courts have rejected, districts that may be proved illegal at trial. The rationale is supposedly that changing voting rules cannot be changed close to an election after a 2006 Supreme Court case, Purcell v. Gonzalez.

In an extension of the redistricting conflict, Louisiana Republicans want to redefine a Black voter to exclude anyone who identify with another race—a “pure” view of racial identity. In Ardoin v. Robinson, Republican officials argued that Blacks are limited to only those who check just the Black box or both Black and White and do not identify as Latino. Alabama had already dropped the idea before taking their lawsuit to the Supreme Court. GOP success would almost entirely eliminate the use of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to challenge district maps. The topic hasn’t been up for a debate since the 2003 ruling overturning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and was considered settled.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a case from Rhode Island in which a Catholic group and two women attempted to overturn a lower court’s ruling. The plaintiffs want the state’s abortion-rights law declared unconstitutional because it doesn’t give 14th Amendment legal standing for fetuses. A 2019 Georgia law grants fetal personhood to embryos at six weeks of pregnancy; pregnant women can claim them dependents on tax returns.

SCOTUS permitted the execution last Thursday of a severely mentally ill man in Oklahoma who killed his nine-month-old daughter two decades ago. Benjamin Cole is the second execution of 25 planned executions through 2024, one a month. Although the state has a history of painfully botched lethal injections, that process was used. A 1986 Supreme Court ruling found the execution of the severely mentally ill to be unconstitutional; Oklahoma state law blocks executions of people who are insane. Cole lives in a largely “catatonic” state, not understand legal proceedings, and uses a wheelchair.

The conservative Supremes are preferential toward executions. Recently, they kept Andre Lee Thomas, a 21-year-old Black man, on death row despite his ineffectual defense, racial bias, and a mentally ill defendant. Thomas was declared incompetent to stand trial for 47 days until a psychiatrist stated he suffered from a drug-induced psychosis. Later, the defense attorney said not challenging the letter was a mistake. An all-white jury, four of whom openly opposed interracial relationships, convicted him.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett also declined a request to halt the federal judge’s ruling permitting President Joe Biden’s student loan relief plan to continue. The lower federal court in Wisconsin determined that the plaintiff, the Brown County Taxpayers Association, lacked standing. The judge said that merely paying taxes is not sufficient to challenge federal actions. In St. Louis, another federal judge dismissed a challenge to the program from six GOP-led states, again on the basis that the states lacked standing.

An appeal from the St. Louis case to the 8th Circuit Court brought the program to a temporary halt, however, until the court rules on an emergency request by the six GOP states to block the policy. Briefs regarding the case are due to the 8th Circuit Court by October 24 and 25. The White House asked borrowers to continue to apply, adding to the at least 22 million who have already done so. The process of review applications and preparing them for transmission to loan servicers can take place during the hiatus. Only one of the 11 active judges on the 11th Circuit Court was appointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama. Of the remaining ten, DDT appointed four, George W. Bush 5, and George H.W. Bush one.  

In a case on October 12, 2022, Helix Energy Solutions Group argued that employee Michael Hewitt, paid by the day, didn’t deserve overtime because he made over $200,00 a year. Exempt from overtime are executives, administrators, and other professional categories. A lower court agreed with Helix, and the 5th Circuit moved to the Hewitt’s side. The six conservative Supremes seemed to oppose the remaining justices in another continued attempt to overturn agency “power.”

On the same day, arguments in Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Goldsmith debated whether Andy Warhol legally used Lynn Goldsmith’s 1981 copyrighted photograph of Prince for his 1984 screenprints. When Vanity Fair’s image of Warhol’s Orange Prince on a 2017 special issue, Goldsmith wasn’t credited or paid. The Warhol Foundation received $10,000 for its use. In 2021, the 2nd Circuit Court ruled in favor of Goldsmith, overturning a New York federal judge’s ruling in 2019 that Warhol’s series was fair use. The question before the Supreme Court is whether changing the source material’s meaning creates fair use.

On Fridays, the Supreme Court justices determine which petitions for appeal they will accept, usually rejecting 98 percent of them which leaves lower courts’ decisions intact. At least four justices must agree whether to take the case, and the conservative majority wants to go big, aggressively moving the county in a far-right direction as shown by last year’s overturning Roe v. Wade. The remaining three progressive justices don’t even have the numbers to determine what cases will be heard; they can only dissent. Chief Justice John Roberts prefers small incremental rightward movement, but he’s no longer in charge.

Republicans still slam Democrats for “activist judges,” but the GOP is now responsible for the radical changes to the right. Expectations for the term are to eliminate affirmative action, continue narrowing the Voting Rights Act, and permit discrimination based on “free speech” and “religious freedom.”

The decisions evidence a strong MAGA movement at the current Supreme Court because of its emphasis on white grievances. According to the conservative Supremes, the 14th Amendment to protect minority rights forbids a more equal society and allows them to chip away at the Voting Rights Act. The argument is always “racism is over.” Five more cases are already scheduled for the upcoming docket that can elevate white supremacy, one of them already heard on October 4.

Ruth Marcus wrote, “Never before in the court’s history has the ideological alignment of the justices tilted so heavily to one extreme.”

October 13, 2022

Dark Clouds for DDT

October 13 gave Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) at least three huge blows.

In one sentence with no dissent, DDT’s handpicked Supreme Court denied DDT’s pet judge Aileen Cannon’s order permitting special master to review classified documents that FBI seized at Mar-a-Lago using a warrant. 

New York AG Letitia James asked a state court to freeze Trump Organization assets to keep them from being transferred outside of the state.  

The House January 6 investigative committee culminated its hearing, the last if the GOP takes the house, with a unanimous vote to subpoena DDT for testimony and documents from his administration. The subpoena expires at the end of 2022.

All nine committee members made presentations during the 153-minute hearing, some of it recaps. New video provided videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-CA) desperately calling high-level officials for help when DDT rejected her pleas to call off his violent supporters. The hearing also replayed congressional speeches by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) explaining that DDT was responsible for the January 6 insurrection.

Other testimony added pieces of the puzzle:

The Secret Service knew DDT-supporters’ threats and plots of violence much earlier than they had previously admitted but provided no warning or cautionary strategy for protecting congressional members and the vice-president from the armed protesters.

Months before DDT’s losing election, video and social media posts from DDT’s allies such as Roger Stone and Steve Bannon prove they instructed DDT to proclaim he won the election if he loses because “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” They also knew about DDT’s plans to have his supporters storm the U.S. capitol.

Knowing he lost the election, DDT signed a flurry of military orders, requiring “the immediate withdrawal of troops from Somalia and Afghanistan.”  

Evidence shows that DDT knew Joe Biden won the presidency despite his public lies and DDT approved of the insurrection.

The committee will recall witnesses who already testified under oath to see if they lied about DDT’s actions on January 6.

More on DDT’s problems:

As DDT’s rallies shrink in size, they increase in hatred, anti-science, and bigotry. The Mesa (AZ) event last weekend was in a dirt field; DDT still owes the city almost $65,000 for a previous event as well as outstanding debts to Phoenix and Tucson.  

From the Nevada and Arizona rallies:  

  • Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said that all Blacks commit crimes and that only God changes the climate. Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE) defended Tuberville’s bigotry.
  • Jim Marchant, DDT’s endorsement for Nevada’s secretary of state, said that he’ll put DDT back into the White House and “take our country back” when we “get all our Secretaries of State elected.”
  • State GOP chair Michael McDonald claimed the “fake electors” were just standing up “for the rights of Nevadans.”
  • DDT demanded that Ukrainians immediately stop trying to destroy the Russian army invading their country.
  • And of course, “Lock her up!”

DDT’s legal fees are rapidly mounting, but they’re being picked up by donors through his Save America PAC and the RNC while he fails to fund GOP candidates as he promised. His incessant appeals is contributing to burnout with small donors, but the organizations are funneling large sums of money to DDT’s businesses and nonprofits created by former White House, including DDT’s chief of staff Mark Meadows.

New revelations:

DDT’s former lawyer Christina Bobb told the DOJ that another lawyer, Evan Corcoran, told her to sign the supposedly complete list of documents although she didn’t do the search. She signed the statement as a custodian rather than a lawyer which means she may not be subject to attorney-client privilege protections.  

DDT threatened to expose identities of confidential government sources from his first impeachment and still obsesses about this revenge fantasy, according to a Rolling Stone report by Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley. After the insurrection, he waved papers and complained about redactions, saying that people should see who “did it” to the president, and he continues to talk about getting “the names” into the public record.

When chances of overturning the election reduced, DDT and Meadows pushed the DOJ to declassify the binder with records of the FBI’s 2016 Russian investigation. Recently, DDT wanted to tell the Archives he would trade “his” documents for information on the Russian investigation, but his aides didn’t follow through. Blackmail is always the name of the game for DDT.  

A DDT aide told the FBI that DDT directed his moving White House records from storage to his apartment, a statement supported by surveillance tapes. Since his campaign in 2016, DDT has repeatedly demanded lengthy prison sentences for people who he believed mishandled classified materials, starting with Hillary Clinton, and promised “to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information.” He added, “No one will be above the law.”

At his Arizona rally, DDT said he had “a small number of boxes,” but they were his. Legal experts have said that he is admitting a crime. Documents dated after DDT left the White House may be mixed in with the other ones, indicating that DDT has handled the documents after he left office.

Without naming DDT, the National Archives refuted his claims that past presidents had mishandled White House records with the help of the agency. At his Nevada and Arizona rallies, DDT made these claims about former presidents of both parties from Reagan to Obama. He even invented the lie that George H.W. Bush’s records were stored in a combination Chinese restaurant and bowling alley “with no security and a broken door.” The Archives declared temporary storage always “met strict archival and security standards and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees.” Any insinuations that records were stored in substandard conditions “are false and misleading.” DDT also accused President Clinton of losing nuclear codes.

Assigned by AG Bill Barr, special counsel John Durham’s almost four-year investigation into Robert Mueller’s investigation, which DDT promised to be a bombshell, dribbles to an end with the trial of Igor Danchenko. Durham claims that the researcher fed information to former British spy Christopher Steele with allegations about DDT’s ties to Russia in 2016. The judge appeared skeptical about the charge. 

DDT’s wealthy investor friend Tom Barrack is on trial for his lobbying between DDT and the United Arab Emirates for DDT’s profit. Barrack also worked with Paul Manafort, who pled guilty to fraud and conspiracy, and met DDT through their association with sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. Influencer of Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, made Barracl a foreign agent, but he failed to register for this role as required by U.S. law.

DDT’s defamation suit against CNN accuses them of comparing him to the Nazis and Hitler as well as the “malice” of using the term “Big Lie” for his massive lying about a stolen election. As a public figure, he may have trouble proving his case against the media, especially with the precedent from a DDT-appointed judge who ruled that Fox network’s Tucker Carlson didn’t engage in slander because of the opinionated nature of his show.

In another defamation suit by E. Jean Carroll, DDT will be deposed on October 19. She claimed he raped her, and DDT denied it, calling her “a liar” and “not my type.” He said this libel and slander was part of his presidential duties. Two judges on a 2nd Circuit panel said Carroll couldn’t sue DDT for defamation but asked the D.C. Circuit Court to rule on whether DDT acted “outside the scope” of his position when he defamed Carroll by casting doubt on her credibility and demeaning her personal appearance. Carroll will bring a civil suits against DDT for a sexual assault because a recent New York law changes the statute of limitations.

A federal judge denied DDT’s motion to pause Carroll’s defamation suit. He also ruled that DDT couldn’t show a meaningful threat of irreparable injury if a stay is not put in place but that Carroll would suffer irreparable injury with a stay. Twenty months ago, the judge denied DDT’s request that the United States be substituted for DDT in the lawsuit.

The special master assigned to the Mar-a-Lago case about DDT’s stolen documents gave DDT until October 20 to prove why the seized unclassified materials are covered by executive privilege. The reason has to go beyond “I thought so.” 

One of DDT’s ongoing associates while he was in the White House is Chinese businessman Tao Liu, a fugitive from China and mastermind of a conspiracy defrauding thousands of investors with connections to Chinese and Latin American organized crime. His crimes cover the world.  The FBI monitored Liu because he allegedly worked with Chinese spies to buy access to U.S. political figures. The Secret Service didn’t screen Liu at Bedminster where he wandered in and out, and the government kept their encounters secret. In 2021, Liu was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty in a federal pled guilty in a federal conspiracy to bribe a U.S. official in a passport sting and money laundering.

This list of DDT’s legal problems is two months old but gives an excellent summary up to August 21, 2022.  

In an Atlantic article, Franklin Foer explains why Merrick Garland will likely indict DDT.

Remember! DDT said, “Nobody is above the law.”

 

October 7, 2022

News for the Week – October 6, 2022

Hurricane Ian has passed, and the House January 6 investigative committee has scheduled a hearing for October 13 at 1:00 pm EST. They picked the time because Fox network refuses to film hearings during evening prime time.

Part of the right-wing Proud Boys’ inner circle, Jeremy Bertino of Belmont (NC), a longtime lieutenant of its chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, has pled guilty to seditious conspiracy. He may be a key witness against his five former colleagues, leaders with ties to influential supporters of former Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). They face a December trial on charges including plotting to forcibly stop the presidential transition culminating in the January 6 insurrection. Five members of the Oath Keepers are already on trial for the same charge, and four members of the far-right group already pled guilty along with two other Proud Boys. Bertino’s guilty plea and illegal possession of firearms as a convicted felon could be punished by 51 to 63 months in prison. A search of his home revealed six firearms including two semiautomatic AR-15 style rifles with scopes.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), an occasional moderate, is leaving Congress within the next two months to become president of the University of Florida. The state’s GOP governor, Pete Ricketts, can fill the open seat through the 2024 election. Sasse’s term, his second, lasts through 2026, meaning the replacement would have only a two-year term before a reelection.

As in the past, DDT bashed Sasse, one of seven senators voting to convict DDT in his second impeachment. Conservative author Nick Adams posted that DDT should “buy a house in Nebraska and… [Nebraska] Governor Pete Ricketts should appoint President Donald J. Trump to the US Senate to replace Ben Sasse.” DDT has praised DDT for his Adams’ work, Retaking America: Crushing Political Correctness. DDT wrote on Truth Social that he is “looking forward to partnering with Nebraska’s great Republican Party to get a real senator … not another fake RINO.” A new governor in 2023 could appoint the term-limited Ricketts to replace Sasse.

Some of DDT’s gubernatorial candidates are so bad that GOP leaders support their Democratic opponents:

Kansas: Former Gov. Bill Graves is supporting Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly over state AG Derek Schmidt, who worked in Graves administration. Graves joins 160 other Kansas Republicans endorsing Kelly. Schmidt’s relationship with Republicans is so bad that GOP state senator Dennis Pyle is running against him as an independent. Since Kelly became governor, she balanced the budget, funded public schools, restored infrastructure projects, removed the food tax, and cut $1 billion in taxes while shattering records for new business investments and landed major economic development opportunities.

Michigan: Over 150 state Republicans launched a coalition of business leaders, former state lawmakers, and ex-congressman, and top staff from the GOP administrations of Gov. John Engler and Rick Snyder to support Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s reelection bid. The former head of the Michigan GOP is also part of the group

Pennsylvania: GOP leaders, including former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Allegheny County state Rep. Jim Kelly, announced they support AG Josh Shapiro running for governor against Doug Mastriano. Other GOP officials including two former congressmen, a former state House speaker, and a former lieutenant governor, added their endorsements.

In Maryland, Democratic Wes Moore is ahead of DDT’s gubernatorial choice Dan Cox by 32 percent to replace term-limited Republican Larry Hogan.  Massachusetts Dem candidate Maura Healy has a 99-percent chance to beat DDT’s gubernatorial choice, Geoff Diehl, replacing term-limited GOP Charlie Baker. In this year’s gubernatorial races, 17 lean GOP and 16 Democratic with three states in the middle, according to fivethirtyeight.com.  (Interactive map)

Gas prices going up? Blame Saudi Arabia, not President Joe Biden. Not only did OPEC cut oil supplies. but Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco also bought the biggest oil refinery in the U.S. at Port Arthur (TX) in 2017. Aramco has full ownership of 24 distribution terminals and exclusive rights to sell Shell-branded gasoline and diesel in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, the eastern half of Texas and the majority of Florida.

Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, is consuming the media with a “on-again” position of buying Twitter after vacillating so long that he was headed for a trial on October 17 for trying to break the deal. Over six months ago, he offered to buy the company after he discovered he couldn’t make changes as a shareholder, limited to 15 percent of Twitter stocks. Since then he has badmouthed the company, driving down its shares by almost one-third at one time while offering to finalize the deal with a large drop in the original $44 billion he offered.

When the deal when completely sour, Twitter took Musk to court, but he didn’t want to be deposed and went back to the original agreement of $54.20 a share if the social media company dropped all litigation. Musk asked for additional time to put together financing because most of his assets are tied up with other companies such as Tesla. That company’s shares have dropped by one-third in the past six months, and Musk’s financial backers for Twitter have started to back out. The judge gave Musk until October 28 to finalize the deal. Earlier offering to sell for less, Twitter’s lawyers said that Musk’s “proposal is an invitation to further mischief and delay.”

Like DDT with his Truth Social, Musk has grandiose ideas for his business model—an all-purpose app for messaging, shopping, video gaming, and web browsing, similar to China’s WeChat app. He envies TikTok’s algorithm keeping users hooked and wants a creator-friendly platform focusing more on video. He even has a name, X—the everything app. In addition, Musk wants users to pay for each posted tweet with small amounts of the cryptocurrency DogeCoin and plans to allow DDT back on Twitter to move his QAnon conspiracies and calls for violence into the mainstream venue.

This week, Musk tweeted proposals for “Ukraine-Russia Peace”: give Russia the illegally annexed Crimea, stop Ukraine from joining NATO, ensure water supply to Ukraine, and ask the UN to run another set of referenda in eastern Ukraine allowing Russia to overtake the regions if Russia wins. Along with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelinsky, over 60 percent of the more than one million respondents disagreed, but Musk attributed the vote to the “biggest bot attack I’ve ever seen.” Tesla shares dropped 9 percent, and Musk lost $15 billion from his $252 billion but regained most of it after he said he was going through with the sale.

Buying Twitter means Musk takes on a lot of baggage. The company did win a Dutch case at The Hague in its claim that Twitter did enough by deleting lies spread by three men who claimed a Dutch town was the site of a satanic pedophile ring. Dozens of people “flocked to the municipality of 34,000 people to lay flowers and messages in a graveyard of so-called victims after conspiracy theorists latched on to the claims.”

Yet the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case this term to determine whether tech platforms should be immune from punishment for harmful content posted by users. It regards a woman killed by the Islamic State militant group in Paris during a 2015 attack. She was one of over 100 people killed by ISIS that year, and the family claims videos fed algorithmically on YouTube inspired the extremists. The intent of the SCOTUS case is deciding whether to retain a legal provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, Section 230, that protects internet companies from liability for users’ posts. Democrats assert tech companies use Section 230 to avoid accountability for hate speech.

Bits from the White House:

President Joe Biden has pardoned everyone federally convicted of simple possession of cannabis under federal law, over 6,500 people, and urges governors to follow suit. Although states are moving toward legal use of cannabis for medical and recreational use, the substance remains illegal under federal law. Biden also asked Health and Human Services Secretary and the DOJ AG to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.

VP Kamala Harris was in a one-car accident when her Secret Service driver hit a curb in a tunnel hard enough that the tire had to be replaced and bringing Harris’ motorcade to a standstill. She was transferred to another vehicle and taken to the White House, but the Secret Service reported only “a mechanical failure” in an alert.

The White House announced a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights” to hold technology companies accountable for internal biases threatening the civil rights by ensuring AI programs are developed with built-in protections. Examples include discrimination against student loans for those who attend a Historically Black College or University and an algorithm recommending child welfare agencies investigate families of Black children.  

Because of the CHIPS and Science Act, providing $52 billion in public investment in semiconductor manufacture, Micron will spend up to $100 billion during the next 20 years to build up to four plants in upstate New York near Syracuse to manufacture computer chips. The company estimates that the project will create almost 50,000 jobs, with about 9,000 of those in the plants themselves

The GOP complains the loan relief may help Blacks more than Whites because of the racial income gap. Will Republicans then sue to take all benefits away because more Blacks are in poverty than Whites as they reject equal voting rights for Blacks?

Alabama has a gender-based dress code: AL.com reporter Ivana Hrynkiw was told her skirt was too short to view an execution at a prison and open-toe shoes were unsuitable although she had worn the skirt on her job multiple times with no questioning. The prison official approved rain gear—waterproof waders—she borrowed from a photographer and her gym tennis shoes. A judge told a staffer for another judge was told she couldn’t go into the courtroom wearing a pantsuit. And more stories about Alabama sexism!

October 4, 2022

News: Supreme Court, DDT Plus More

Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) head to Mesa (AZ) on October 9 for another rally so supposedly campaign for his endorsed candidates Kari Lake (governor) and Blake Masters (U.S. Senate). No mention of another far-right GOP candidate Mark Finchem for Secretary of State. The day before, October 8, he’ll be at the Minden-Tahoe (NV) Airport for Adam Laxalt (U.S. Senate), Joe Lombardo (governor), and “the entire Nevada Trump ticket.” At DDT’s rally last week, people started leaving after 15 minutes, almost two hours early, from the facility not filled to capacity. 

As befits their ideology, six conservative justices appear to lean on their second day toward narrowing voting rights by permitting racial gerrymandering even after a Circuit Court three-judge panel, two of them DDT appointees, ruled the racial discrimination violated the Voter Rights Act (VRA). Justice Samuel Alito went the farthest, possibly willing to make the legal challenges against racial gerrymander even more stringent by “revisiting” Thornburg v. Gingles (1986), in which a unanimous vote blocked North Carolina from partisan racial gerrymandering.  

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson brilliantly defended the VRA, at least the small piece left after Roberts court destroyed an important part of it in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) to permit racial discrimination and opened the South to voting oppression laws.

For years, conservative justices have driven poor decisions through SCOTUS through their personal views of originalism of WWTFFD—What Would the Founding Fathers Do. Conservative justices have insisted that the Constitution is “colorblind,” allowing them to allow racial discrimination by saying it wasn’t discriminatory. Jackson refused to give in to them. In the arguments on Merrill v. Mulligan to determine the Alabama districting case, the theory emerged again from conservatives. Jackson tutored them and Alabama’s lawyer in the purpose of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments: “provide equal opportunity for formerly enslaved people, using color-conscious remedies whenever necessary to put them on the same plane as whites,” according to Mark Joseph Stern. She added that drilling down in the Constitution shows “that the Framers themselves adopted the equal protection clause, the 14th, the 15th Amendment, in a race-conscious way.”

Alabama Republicans argue that protecting Black citizens’ voting power would violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Jackson may lose, but she won’t give up without a fight.

In other business, the Supremes declined to hear Costello v. Carter, challenging Pennsylvania’s court-approved congressional map after the GOP legislature deadlocked with the Democratic governor, an issue with the high court’s upcoming arguments on Moore v. Harper. Perhaps they figure a ruling to give state legislatures carte blanche would render the case moot. Tragically, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and strong supporter of voting rights, Max Baer, died last Friday. The governor appoints his replacement until an election in 2023, but the legislature may not confirm the current governor’s choice. If extremely far-right Doug Mastriano gets elected in five weeks, the replacement can be a disaster for all rights in the state. In Pennsylvania, the governor also appoints the Secretary of State, who manages elections.

The Supreme Court has another chance to take on a gun issue, this time from Mexico. Alejandro Celorio, the country’s lead attorney, wants to sue U.S. gun manufacturers.  Last year, a judge dismissed a $10 million lawsuit against eight companies making and selling weapons favored by drug cartels with a law giving U.S. companies immunity from liability for guns illegally used by criminals. The lawsuit asserts 70 to 90 percent of guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes are illegally trafficked from the U.S. with the eight companies making over two-thirds of those weapons.    

DDT didn’t waste time sending his appeal to overturn the ruling from the 11th Circuit Court to allow the DOJ to start examining classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago on August 8; he went directly to Justice Clarence Thomas. He wants the court to give the documents back to his special master. Thomas can refer DDT’s request to the full court, but the question is whether he will.   

Another question is whether anyone will trust DDT with classified documents after 14 of his officials reported on his four-year failure to follow guidelines for handling sensitive government documents. One adviser still seeing him regularly describes him as a “pack rat” and a “hoarder.” Some classified documents could be seen by anyone walking by him, and he didn’t always have them for official purposes.  

This week, DDT was directly connected to withholding federal documents when he asked Alex Cannon, a former DDT lawyer, to lie to the National Archives last February and tell the agency that DDT returned everything the archives wanted. Now DDT is accusing the Archives, as well as the FBI, for planting documents at Mar-a-Lago.  

There’s also DDT’s problems with his social media platform. After months of hype about Digital World, the company behind Truth Social, over three dozen disillusioned investors want a way out of the $1.3 billion to take the startup public. Last October, Digital World’s stock skyrocketed from $10 to $175 but dropped to $17.10 this week, ten percent of its high. A year later, the company faces the threat of liquidation, and backers had to pony up another $2.9 million in September to extend a deadline until December 8 for finalizing the deal. Digital World already moved from luxurious office space to a UPS store.

Bad news has piled up: a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into illegal stock trading, a lawsuit by a scorned business partner against going public, investors promising $138 million have already pulled out, and reports that the social media platform isn’t paying its bills. Truth Social’s web host, RightForge, threatens legal action with claims that it is owed $1.6 million after the social platform paid for only three months since Truth Social inception in February 2021. In response to questions about the financial viability of Digital World, DDT said, “I don’t need financing. I’m really rich!” He just doesn’t pay his bills.

Investors may be unnerved by the trend for Truth Social to run QAnon advertising explicitly referencing a coming storm and including Q in the logo. The ads follow DDT sharing posts from over 100 QAnon accounts with images of DDT wearing a Q lapel pin. This week, he promoted QAnon and its predisposition of violence by tagging its image of a burning Q on top of the U.S. flag. Recent DDT’s and Truth Social’s promotion of QAnon has occurred at the same time as an increase in QAnon-linked violence. In June, Kash Patel, former DDT official and Truth Social board member, said, “We try to incorporate [QAnon] into our overall messaging scheme to capture audiences. Analysts state the social platform’s biggest problem is its narrow audience, lacking diversity of opinion and content—an echo chamber for DDT’s followers. 

DDT has twice endorsed Jair Bolsonaro for his last Sunday’s election, but the “Trump of the Tropics” lost his election by over five points. Unfortunately, his opponent, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was short of 50 percent by 1.2 percent. The runoff is on October 30.

After VP Kamala Harris said that North Korea has a “very important relationship” with the U.S., DDGT called her a “North Korea sympathizer.” This from the man who “fell in love” with Kim Jong-Un.

Eager for more attention, DDT is suing CNN for defamation; he wants $475 million. He claimed the network used its influence to defeat him politically.

More clarity has come out about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ use of federal monies authorized for Florida use to ship 48 migrants from San Antonio (TX) to Martha’s Vineyard after lying to them about their advantages and destination. Migrants were lured onto the flight with lies from a woman calling herself “Perla.” Her last name is Huerta, and she is allegedly a “former combat medic and counterintelligence agent” discharged after two decades in the U.S. Army that included several deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was sent from Tampa to Texas to help execute DeSantis’ plot. Migrants suing DeSantis plan to name Huerta as a defendant in the civil suit, leaving her open to deposing her for details about Florida administration’s potential involvement in the deception. Under immigration law, the asylum seekers aren’t “unauthorized aliens” as DeSantis claims.

Possibly to put the GOP back into control of the U.S. government, OPEC may cut oil production at a Wednesday meeting, driving up the price of gas in the U.S. Since June, gas prices have dropped by one-third from $120 to $80 a barrel, easing inflation. OPEC countries want to have greater control over the world’s oil production as the U.S. became a bigger player in the oil market. OPEC also blames the dollar’s rising strength for decreasing revenues.

Another Republican violated his state’s voting laws by creating a fake ID and using it to vote in multiple elections, this one Alabama’s GOP chairman John Wahl. The state government never issued him an ID, and he wasn’t on any state list of employees. Wahl claimed State Auditor Jim Zeigler gave him permission to make the ID himself, but Secretary of State John Merrill said he told Wahl it is not a valid voter ID. Although Wahl blamed poll workers for forcing him to use the ID through harassment, he also had a driver’s license that he could have used for a legal ID when voting. And he lied about not having made the ID himself.  

October 3, 2022

New Supreme Court Term:   Repeal the 20th Century, Part II

The launching of the new Supreme Court term began with a case about the Clean Water Act, whether it covers connections such as creeks and ditches between bodies of water. Two conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, had already joined Chief Justice John Roberts in backing a stringent test requiring wetlands to have a “continuous surface water connection.” Another justice, Neil Gorsuch, appeared in favor of building a house on wetlands in Idaho, in opposition to retired Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom he clerked. In her questioning, new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson appeared to have joined other progressive justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in favor of federal regulation of wetlands under the law. In concern about the “vagueness” of the law, six conservative justices could “shrink” the Clean Water Act, as Ian Millheiser wrote.

In a second SCOTUS case on its first day, the Supremes need to define “money order” in Delaware v. Pennsylvania. States can take possession of unclaimed or abandoned property within their borders, but states argue about “intangible property,” such as uncashed states. In Delaware, MoneyGram is one of its many incorporated businesses providing 8 percent of state revenue in 2021. People buy “official checks” used to transmit funds; if no one cashes the check, it becomes unclaimed property. Similar products such as money orders and traveler’s checks to the state where the item was purchased, according to a 1974 law. Thirty states argue that Moneygram checks are a money order, but Delaware has a narrower definition of money order. Conservative justices seemed to lean toward Delaware.

The Supreme Court also declined to hear three major cases:

The $1.3 billion civil defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell can go forward after he continues to falsely claim that the voting equipment was used to help give the 2020 election to President Joe Biden.

The DOJ can continue its practice of using “filter teams” not assigned to a given case to determine whether classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago are privileged. The 11th Circuit Court had permitted the DOJ use of this process in other situations. At least eight federal circuits had permitted the DOJ to use these teams, also called “taint teams,” but the 4th Circuit Court finally ruled against the DOJ in 2019.

Two challenges to the 2017 federal ban on bump stocks that transform semi-automatic rifles into the ability of machine guns lost as both the 6th and 10th Circuit Courts upholding the ban.

Almost 60 percent of people think the Supreme Court is out of touch with the values and beliefs of most individuals, and 66 percent want term limits on judges including over half the Republicans. A current House bill puts an 18-year term on Supreme Court justices and requires appointments of new justices in the first and third year of every president’s term. After their 18-year term, justices hear cases only if the number of justices falls below nine. With this law, Thomas would immediately lose his active status, and Alito would be retired in another year.

While destroying democracy law year, the Supremes decided the fewest number of cases after oral argument in over 150 years. By early June, justices had issued opinions in only half of these 62 cases, resulting in the least productive court in history. The lack of cases cannot be an avoidance of interference. The Roberts court has created more chaos in the U.S. with rulings across a broad number of issues than most of the courts in the past century.  [visual – Supreme Court unproductive]

 

The court is also the most conservative in 90 years, when Franklin D. Roosevelt considered taking action, and at the same time overly aggressive. Congressional gridlock with the GOP unwilling to compromise has exacerbated the serious problems.

In addition, the Roberts court has also ruled in favor of religious groups over 80 percent in its cases—the most pro-religion since the 1950s—and has the six most pro-religion justices since at least World War II. Taxpayers are increasingly being forced to pay for Christian activities while churches pay no taxes. Two of the most notoriously far-right judges—Clarence Thomas and Amy Coney Barrett—took the seats of justices most advocating religious liberty and human rights when Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were gone.

The U.S. is only 22 percent Catholic, but six of nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic—two-thirds of the total—making decisions for 100 percent of the nation. Episcopalian Neil Gorsuch, raised and educated a Catholic, joins his five Catholic colleagues to make the Catholic majority 78 percent. The other two justices are Jewish and Protestant. The Catholic Church elevates virginity, requires female subservience in marriage, restricts women from controlling their own bodies, and damns LGBTQ people. Evangelical Christians follow the same philosophies.

These personal beliefs will guide the Supreme Court majority decisions of the Supreme Court after Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) Republicans put three highly conservatives on the court to join two others. Chief Justice John Roberts looks almost moderate compared to those five although he frequently votes with them as in banning abortion. Heresy to Catholics is freedom of conscience, general human rights, and the belief that sacredness cannot be found outside organized religion, especially Catholicism.

Amy Davidson Sorkin writes about “a feeling with this Court that the conservative Justices could make a landmark ruling out of almost any case.” Roberts’ denial of court problems bodes poorly for this term as the conservative Supremes try to make their mark with these landmark cases.

Addressing Roberts’ whining about how SCOTUS is legitimate, former Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said GOP senators “destroyed the legitimacy of the court” when they stole two seats—using a fake rule to ignore Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland and then ignoring their own rule by putting Amy Coney Barrett onto the court days before a presidential election.

Dahlia Lithwick, who has reported on the Supreme Court for almost 25 years, wrote, “In the matter of the Supreme Court v. the Supreme Court, it’s safe to say the Supreme Court is most assuredly losing.” She cited some of its disasters: overturning Roe v. Wade, expanding gun ownership in a nation overwhelmed by sheer numbers of them, fetishizing “religious liberty” over basic equality and other freedoms, and a multitude of other problems such as conflicts of interest, internal leaks, and inappropriate speeches.  She left out climate change.  

The court is so anti-disability rights that lawyers don’t file lawsuits that would give the justices the chance to set back rights for disabled people. Twenty-three years ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion for Olmstead v. L.C. revolutionary ruling that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities violated the principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Clarence Thomas, the only remaining justice from that 1999 court, wrote the dissent. At that time, Amy Coney Barrett clerked for another dissenter, Antonin Scalia. While on the D.C. Circuit Court, Brett Kavanaugh ruled that the District of Columbia could improperly authorize elective surgeries for women in their care because they “lack …” the mental capacity to make medical decisions.” On the 10th Circuit Court, Neil Gorsuch ruled against a professor receiving six months of paid leave after a cancer diagnosis because it “would turn employers into safety net providers.”

Marc Ash issued the most dire warning: “This Court is dead forever. A new Court must rise.”

The conservative Supremes claim they follow the Founding Fathers statements, their own version of originalism, but Sotomayor pointed out that the Constitution doesn’t allow the Supreme Court having “the last word,” as conservative justices have claimed. Their claims come, not from the Constitution, but from Marbury v. Madison (1803) when the court declared legislative and executive actions unconstitutional. True originalism erases the high court’s superiority over the other two branches of government. In 1868, the court decided that the court’s jurisdiction was subject to congressional limitation, and other justices have agreed in the past century. Even Warren Burger, appointed by Richard Nixon, wrote that Congress could pass simple legislation “limiting or prohibiting judicial review of its directives.”

The Constitution states that the “judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” Article III, Section 2 limits original jurisdiction to “all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party.” Otherwise, “the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.” Additional writings clarity the opinions of some Founding Fathers, but the court has already negated their value as in cases of the separation of church and state.

Thus Congress could deny Supreme Court jurisdiction over a new voting rights act, the right to privacy such as abortion, and other measures. The legislative and executive branches could leave the Supreme Court to adjudicate only insignificant minor matters. Not a good idea for stability but neither is the present court’s majority claim of unchecked power.

Or maybe the new court won’t proceed with its past heedlessness, ignoring its real-world consequences on all minorities and democracy itself. We can only dream.

October 2, 2022

New Supreme Court Term: Repeal the 20th Century (Part I)

The U.S. Supreme Court launches the 2022/23 year of conservative decisions this coming week, and scandals grow as more information comes out about both justices and their spouses. (Above: President Joe Biden and Vice-president Kamala Harris, center, with Supreme Court justices; below left: illustration by João Fazenda) )

The best known may be Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Thomas Justice, who still declares that the 2020 presidential election was overturned, even to the House January 6 investigative committee. With extensive work to overturn the elections through texting and other contacts with both federal and state officials and legislators, she has political connections with over half the anti-abortion organizations lobbying the justices and operates a consulting business including conservative activist groups with interest in Supreme Court decisions as clients. She hides names of clients and how much money she gets from them but maintains she never talks to her husband about the court while he votes in her favor.

More information came out this summer about the beer-swilling, Hillary Clinton-hating, sobbing caricature regarding the complete lack of vetting for the lifetime term to tell everyone in the U.S. how to behave. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) was pushing his hand-picked agencies to get Brett Kavanaugh confirmed and ignored 4,500 comments about him, many of them about his sexual assault, were sent into a tip line about him. None of them was investigated because DDT-appointed FBI director Chris Wray sent them to DDT and claimed that the FBI lacked authority to further investigate Kavanaugh. Yet Wray used “proof” that doesn’t clearly state any restrictions.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who earlier ruled a trucker driver must die because leaving his rig in the cold was illegal, was so eager to push “religious freedom” that he ruled for a praying football coach based on the lies that a lawyer told the high court. He also ignored testimony about the coach coercing players into joining the prayers. Gorsuch declared that prayer is protected by “free speech,” making it “doubly protected,” two clauses against one. He sees himself protecting Christians against a government “hostile” to religion.  

Justice Samuel Alito used religion to outlaw abortion using religious opposition to abortion by a 13th-century judge and a 17th-century Puritan judge who burned witches and supported marital rape. Alito calls secularism “secular orthodoxy” with anti-Catholic prejudice.

The background of Justice Amy Coney Barrett is steeped in the tiny, rigid Catholic group People of Praise rejecting homosexuality, practicing ecstatic Christian traditions like speaking in tongues and called a “covenant community.” She’s so secretive about her husband’s work that she redacted his business name in her most recent disclosures. In contrast, her husband prominently displays his wife’s name on the website of the boutique firm advertised as a “white-collar criminal defense, internal investigations, and complex commercial litigation [across] virtually every industry.” The justice objected to any guidelines for spouses because they wouldn’t “be very happy.”

Even the wife of Chief Justice John Roberts, Jane Roberts, is active in the political world as a legal head-hunter at Macrae representing high-powered attorneys looking for jobs in wealthy firms. A former managing partner at a firm hiring her said the firm hoped for a benefit from employing her to share networks. Jane Roberts also represented top government officials at federal agencies with direct interests in court business.  

Justices have great latitude in what they must include on their disclosure forms, a way to conceal conflicts of interest, and some of them omit expensive dining and access to luxurious vacation homes. The religious organization Faith and Action bragged about using wealthy couples to “wine and dine” conservative Supremes, helping them to feel “more secure” in pushing a faith-based legal agenda. None of these expensive meals, club visits, and plush vacation properties appears on the justices’ disclosure forms. An excuse is the pitiful salaries for justices–$274,200 for associates and $286,700 for the chief—compared to millions for elite attorneys in private practices.

Despite multiple efforts, the only law regarding conflicts of interest for justices in the past decade has added the requirement for judges and justices to report stock trades on their disclosures. Previously, Roberts was upset about the problems in federal courts’ ethics practices after conflicts of financial interest in almost 700 instances over nine years and suggested more “rigorous” ethics training programs. Now he declares the high court hasn’t lost its legitimacy, it’s just that the public disagrees with what they’re doing.

Roberts spent part of the summer trying to convince people that he was part of—certainly not leading—a legitimate court, but the GOP Senate clarified that SCOTUS is a political group by ignoring President Obama’s nominee and pushing through DDT’s picks from the Federalist Society. The five justices follow GOP guidance; Roberts just trails along with them.

Justices greet the all-time low court’s ratings, according to conservative Gallup polling, with defiance. Only 40 percent approve of its job performance, down nine points from last year, with 58 percent disapproving while conservative justices say they should ignore any public opinion. Dropping 20 percent from two years ago, only 47 percent cite “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the government’s judicial branch—the lowest ever rating by six percent. Plus 42 percent find the court too conservative, up 22 points from 2016 before DDT and the GOP Senate added Barrett, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh.

Justice Elena Kagan tried to explain the problem with the high court:

“If, over time, the Court loses all connection with the public and with public sentiment, that is a dangerous thing for democracy… The very worst moments have been times when judges have even essentially reflected one party’s or one ideology’s set of views in their legal decisions. The thing that builds up reservoirs of public confidence is the Court acting like a court and not acting like an extension of the political process.”

Alito, in essence, told her to shut up, saying that “implying that the Court is becoming an illegitimate institution or questioning our integrity crosses an important line.”

After taking away women’s reproductive rights, the Supremes plan high-profile cases this year to turn the country into a far-right theocracy and remove democracy. They’ve already taken away women’s reproductive rights and maintain that Congress can’t make laws. Issues thus far this year:

Voting Rights: Using the earlier overturning of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, districts with predominantly Black voters are disappearing, and the Supremes will increase the trend by legalizing racial gerrymandering and doing away with Black legislators. Equally—or more—dangerous, a major case this year could turn over all election decisions to state legislatures, eliminating any involvement from judges, governors, state supreme courts, even voter initiatives. The court could permit legislators to give electoral votes to a candidate of a candidate who lost the state’s popular vote.

Clean Water/Environmental Protections: The Clean Water Act doesn’t define “waters of the United States” in prohibiting discharges of pollutants so the high court can permit polluting wetlands bordering a river or lake and connections between two bodies of water such as creeks and ditches. In a less conservative court, the last case on the subject, Rapanos v. United States (2006), had no majority and thus no decison.

Affirmative Action: Another two cases can forbid universities to completely consider race in student admissions, possibly even overturn race-based hiring initiatives at private companies. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003) ruled that universities can take limited account of race to block an inferior educational experience for all students, but the new Supremes love to overturn recent cases while looking to decisions from the 17th century.

Medicaid: With current law, the federal government funds much of poor people’s healthcare if states and health providers comply with patient protection guidelines. The lawsuit, which could erase these rules, is from a woman who wants a nursing home to give her husband, who has dementia, “powerful and unnecessary psychotropic medications for purposes of chemical restraint,” currently against the federal Medicaid law.

Cultural Genocide of Native Americans: In the past, the U.S. used the Constitution to “Christianize” supposed “heathens” and removed Native children from their homes to erase their cultural knowledge. To stop these practices, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in 1978 requires that children removed from their homes must be placed with an American Indian family, preferably with the child’s extended family or at least their own tribe. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs in three red states don’t want to comply with ICWA’s requirements. The current court sees established precedents as optional and sometimes a nuisance/ A ruling could upend relations between the government and federally recognized tribes.

Immigration: The Supremes wants to overturn federal law and remove control of immigration enforcement policies from the Department of Homeland Security after a conservative Texas judge said that would be okay. Even if the Supremes rule in favor of federal law, they have already taken the right from the DHS secretary and support a GOP excuse for impeaching Biden by accusing him of focusing on only migrants deemed a “threat to public safety.”

LGBTQ Rights: Religious conservatives also want to erase LGBTQ people. Two SCOTUS rulings favoring discrimination have been narrow, but the current court prefers a shotgun—or an AR-17—approach. The court returns to wedding cakes—specifically designing them. The question is whether the new court will rule that all “religious liberty” is good even if it broadly discriminates. Sensing a friendly high court, Melissa Klein and her husband are also asking the Supremes to take an Oregon case charging them a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple who had been together for ten years. Online funding brought them almost $500,000, and now they complain about being poor. The high court could also overturn the 2013 Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing marriage equality, and 35 states still have laws banning same-gender marriage. A May 2022 Gallup poll revealed that support for same-sex marriage is at 71% – an all-time high.

And the Supremes have just started; their docket has more room. They also might take a few minutes here and there to make a ruling in a shadow docket, not bothering with any arguments or testimony. 

More in Part II.

September 22, 2022

News – September 21, 2022 (DDT Faces More Trouble)

 Aileen Cannon, a judge appointed by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), had ruled against the DOJ’s immediately using seized classified documents from Mar-a-Lago on August 8 for an investigation. In one week, however, DOJ appealed; DDT again won Cannon’s approval; DOJ appealed to the 11th Circuit Court for the materials; and a three-judge panel granted a stay on Cannon’s orders in a ruling siding with the DOJ. It may be the fastest judicial action in history. In the temporary victory for national security, the panel said that Cannon “abused” her discretion in requiring outside review of seized classified documents. In a 29-page opinion, the panel wrote:

“For our part, we cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings.”

The panel, composed of one judge appointed by President Obama and two appointed by DDT, also unanimously refused to accept the claim from DDT’s legal team that he might have declassified the documents, as did the special master Raymond Dearie, DDT’s choice for special master that Cannon appointed.

“Plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was President. But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, Plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents. In any event, at least for these purposes, the declassification argument is a red herring because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal.”

DDT has consistently claimed the documents were not classified because he said they were declassified. On the Fox network, he went farther when he told Sean Hannity by falsely saying that there was no declassification process and he could wordlessly declassify documents:

“You can declassify just by saying “it’s declassified,” even by thinking about it.”

The 11th Circuit Court ruling simplifies Dearie’s work by removing classified documents from his purview; he had said he wanted to avoid reviewing them if possible. The question is whether DDT’s team will appeal the 11th Circuit Court decision.  

Hours before the bad news for DDT from the 11th Circuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced she has filed a civil lawsuit against DDT, three of his adult children, and the Trump Organization for $250 million in financial penalties to cover over a decade of fraud when they falsely inflated and deflated their assets to pay lower taxes while getting better insurance coverage. She also asked for a judgment barring DDT and his children in the suit from serving as officer or director of any state-licensed or registered corporation, real estate acquisition in New York, and applications for loans from any financial institution in the state for five years.

The lawsuit comes from a three-year civil investigation with 65 witnesses and reviews of millions of documents. The defendants allegedly conspired to violate state laws, falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, and committing insurance fraud. Possible federal crimes, including bank fraud have been referred to federal prosecutors and the IRS. DDT supposedly turned the Trump Organization over to his two adult sons in 2017 and serve as executive vice presidents.

Former AG Bill Barr criticized James for trying “to drag the children into this,” referring to adults ages 38 to 44. Yet all three participated in “the fraudulent valuation methods and assumptions.” As usual, DDT claimed that the lawsuit is political by a “failed A.G.” James said:

“There aren’t two sets of laws for people in this nation: former presidents must be held to the same standards as everyday Americans.”

DDT’s fraud related to 23 assets inflated every year between 2011 and 2021, totaling over “200 false and misleading valuations” between 2011 and 2021 is the building at 40 Wall Street owned by the Trump Organization which was valued at $200 million on a tax filing in 2010 that was valued at $524 the following year. In 2015, DDT’s triplex in Trump Tower, 10,996 square feet was three times that size and valued at $327 million. At that time, only one apartment in New York City, housed in a newly built ultra-tall tower, had sold for as much as $100 million. In DDT’s building, the most expensive apartment had sold for $16.5 million. Rental units worth $750,000 were valued at nearly $50 million. DDT claimed his Mar-a-Lago home was worth $739 million, but it was worth one-tenth of that estimate. 

Last month, DDT was deposed for the lawsuit, but he claimed the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination for all questions except his name. Jurors can consider declaration of the Fifth as negative in civil suits. The Trump Organization also tried to settle last month, but James rejected the offer.

The civil lawsuit could have horrendous results for DDT and his children. New York Times reporter Susan Craig said DDT might have to renegotiate crucial loans because of liquidity problems. If liens are called, loans will be extremely hard to get, and values for them will be much lower than DDT had declared. It would be “financial ruin for the company” as well as be disastrous for a 2024 campaign.  

James’ civil lawsuit is separate from the Manhattan criminal case, but they work together on the inquiry. DA Alvin Bragg criminally charged Trump Organization and its longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg for a scheme to not pay taxes on noncash perks. He will have to testify against the business as part of his guilty plea. Weisselberg also described instructions to inflate assets on financial statements. Earlier in 2019, Michael Cohen, DDT’s former lawyer and fixer, habitually inflated and deflated DDT’s assets for financial gain.

Donors who think they are paying for “election integrity” by giving to DDT’s Save America PAC are not only providing DDT’s legal fees but also paying for Melania Trump’s fashion designer. The PAC also gave $650,000 to the Smithsonian Institution for portraits of DDT and former first lady Melania Trump. Two artists have reportedly been commissioned for the two portraits. No spending on any “election fraud” as the PAC advertised. The DOJ is investigating.

DDT faces another New York lawsuit since the state’s new sexual assault survivor’s law went into effect. E. Jean Carroll had accused DDT of raping her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s, but the statute of limitations expired. Now adult accusers have a one-year window to bring civil claims over alleged sexual misconduct no matter how long ago it happened. Carroll’s defamation suit can also proceed. Her attorney Roberta Kaplan wrote that the case will be filed on November 24, 2022. While DDT was in the White House, AG Bill Barr’s DOJ had defended DDT in the defamation suit.

Justice Clarence Thomas may also be in trouble if his wife, Ginni Thomas, honestly testifies to the House January 6 investigative committee. She pushed former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the election as shown by multiple texts between the election and the January 6 insurrection, and worked with DDT’s election attorney John Eastman for the same purpose. In addition, Ginni Thomas emailed 29 Arizona state lawmakers in late 2020, urging them to overturn the state’s popular vote victory for Joe Biden and put together “fake electors” for DDT. She also emailed two GOP Wisconsin lawmakers with the same intent. In March 2021, Thomas attending a meeting of right-wing activists where the audience was told that DDT remains the “legitimate president.” She has a long history of participating in far-right organizations, many of them with cases before the Supreme Court; her husband has always refused to recuse himself and voted in their favor.

 Lawyers representing asylum seekers allegedly “tricked” into flying from San Antonio (TX) to Martha’s Vineyard are seeking a nationwide injunction to block Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from luring immigrants to travel across state lines. Taking funds from the $12 million federal COVID money assigned by state legislators to transport undocumented immigrants, DeSantis started with 50 asylum seekers, paying Oregon-based Vertol Systems Company over $1.5 million for “relocation of unauthorized aliens.” Florida paid the company $615,000 on September 8, following by $950,000 on September 19. The chartered planes landed in Massachusetts on September 15. DeSantis accused “opportunistic” activists of using illegal immigrants as “political theater.”

Two state legislators asked the DOJ to investigate the asylum seekers’ involuntary relocation from Texas. The letter explained migrants didn’t know where they were being flown and put on the plane under false pretenses.

A federal bankruptcy judge in Houston ordered new officials to supervise Alex Jones’s bankruptcy of his parent company and probably destroyed Jones’ plans to hide his assets from court orders to pay for court rulings in his all four lost defamation trials regarding the Sandy Hook massacre. The DOJ-appointed trustee monitoring the case has expanded duties. Jones is also under scrutiny for a potential role in the January 6 insurrection.

The House January 6 investigating committee has scheduled its first fall hearing for September 28, 2022, at 1:00 pm EST. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) announced it might not be the last one but would probably be the only one before the November 8 Midterm elections.

August 20, 2022

Persecution: The Favorite GOP Strategy

[Drought Update]: Yesterday’s blog post on climate disasters focused primarily on the U.S., but other areas face more calamities. In Europe, one of the worst droughts on record uncovered sunken German warships in the Serbian section of the Danube River, part of a Nazi Black Sea fleet sunk in 1944 while fleeing Soviet troops. Loaded with unexploded ordnance, the ships are a threat to fishing and shipping vessels squeezing by in half the 110-yard stretch of the river. Removal of the over 20 ships and their explosive loads will cost $30 million.

In July, a Roman bridge built during the first century BC was uncovered in the Tiber River, and in August, a village flooded in 1963 to build a dam appeared in the Belesar reservoir in Spain. Other submerged towns and villages in Spain surfaced in February with intact house windows and walls. Almost half of EU is under “warning,” connoting a severe drought and major moisture deficit and threatening shipping routes, food supply, and electricity. The heat wave leaves the Iberian peninsula drier than any time in the past 1,200 years and revealed stones from 5000 BC known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal, the “Spanish Stonehenge.”

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t quit its rulings during the summer, this one even in favor of Georgia’s Black voters. Lower courts conflicted in their decisions regarding elections for members of the state’s public service commission. They represent specific districts but are elected in a statewide race, diluting the Black vote, according to one judge. The judge, appointed by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) ordered a November election be postponed for two commissioners’ seats so that the state legislature could create a new system. Another judge had allowed the election to proceed although he found the election violated the Voting Rights Act.

The 11th Circuit Court halted the ruling and cited the “Purcell principle,” disallowing changes in elections immediately before an election. The Supreme Court overturned the appeals’ court decision in its finding that the current public service commission election system discriminates against Black voters. The issue isn’t settled yet because the circuit court can continue deliberating about overturning the postponement. Another commission candidate had been refused for not meeting the district’s one-year residency requirement, but a Fulton County judge reinstated her because she had been targeted for exclusion during redistricting based on her residency. Text messages showed that a revision of a new map came after the Republican commissioner responsible for drawing the maps had been sent the candidate’s address.

In another Georgia decision, a judge refused to block the provision in the state’s new voter suppression law banning people giving food and water to voters who may have to wait in line as long as ten hours—if they are low-income and/or minorities. He said he didn’t want to change the process from the primaries.

After undated Pennsylvania ballots have collected dust for over three months since the May primary election, a judge ordered three counties to include them in their certified results for the primary election. Mail-in ballots in the state require a date on the declaration on the return envelope. That ruling can allow hundreds or even thousands of additional votes in future elections. The judge ordered the certified totals by August 24.

Two counties are considering an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the third one won’t comment. The Department of State pushed the counting of votes, and 64 of the 67 counties did so. Some elections in the three non-compliant counties crossed county lines, leaving the department with either certifying results counted differently across counties or unofficially forcing uniformity. It sued the three counties on July 11.

Earlier this month, it was discovered that a fourth county’s results were certified although it, too, had refused to count undated ballots. Dated ballots were first required in 2020. A federal judge has ruled that rejecting undated mail ballots in last November’s election was a technicality, violating federal civil rights law. The ruling ordered counties to report results both with and without the undated ballots until the case was decided. The state Supreme Court must take an appeal and take action, and the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet decided whether to take the federal case.

In Utah, a state judge gave transgender girls the opportunity to participate in female sports if they pass the scrutiny of a state commission of political appointees. The panel of health professionals and athletic officials will evaluate the child’s height and weight in determining whether a transgender girl would have an unfair advantage. At least 12 states passed laws preventing transgender women or girls from sports, and three more states are in the process of following the discriminatory legislature. In his ruling, the judge said that the families of three transgender student-athletes filing the lawsuits showed they suffered significant distress by “singling them out for unfavorable treatment as transgender girls.” The plaintiffs claim the law violates the Utah Constitution’s guarantees of equal rights and due process.

This week the Utah High School Activities Association revealed it secretly investigated a female athlete as transgender without her or her families knowledge because of complaints from parents of two girls she defeated. The probe into her school records back to kindergarten showed her to be “female.” Association spokesperson David Spatafore claimed the process was hidden to spare the girl and her family embarrassment and “to keep the matter private.”

Gov. Spencer Cox accused the complaint and ensuing investigation of crossing a line. At his monthly news conference, he said:

“My goodness, we’re living in this world where we’ve become sore losers, and we’re looking for any reason why our kid lost.”

Cox added that he was disturbed about “making up allegations.” When he vetoed the law barring transgender girls in sport before it went into effect, he explained his disgust

‘Four kids and only one of them playing girls sports. That’s what all of this is about… “Rarely has so much fear and anger been directed at so few.”

Cox also said that his decision to veto the bill could hurt him politically, but he “tried to do what I feel is the right thing regardless of the consequences.” Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a similar bill in Indiana for fear of business boycotts in the state.

In Florida, an anti-LGBTQ activist in Moms for Liberty wants all LGBTQ students separated in different classes from straight and cisgender students like those with autism and Down Syndrome. The group also attacked the Trevor Project for trying to prevent LGBTQ teen suicide, called two girls briefly kissing at a school function is “lewd” and “traumatic,” and offered bounties for people turning in teachers who discuss “divisive topics.”

Doctors used to be respected for their medical knowledge; now Republicans want to make them felons. First was the proposal to send medical professionals to prison for performing abortions—even ones necessary to save the lives of the pregnant woman or girl. Now Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has introduced a bill making it a felony to provide over a dozen medical interventions and procedures used to treat gender dysphoria—any gender-affirming medical care including puberty blockers and hormones to transgender youth under 18. The measure would block federal funds for gender-affirming health care, including in Affordable Healthcare Act plans, and bar colleges and universities from offering instruction on gender-affirming care. Greene even found 14 GOP House members to co-sponsor her bill: Mary Miller (IL), Jeff Duncan (SC), Bob Good (VA), Ralph Norman (SC), Matt Gaetz (FL), Tony Gonzales (TX), Diana Harshbarger (TN), Clay Higgins (LA), Burgess Owens (UT), Claudia Tenney (NY), Andrew Clyde (GA), Lance Gooden (TX), Lauren Boebert (CO), and Paul Gosar (AZ). She describes “gender-affirming care” as “child abuse” and “assault.” Violators of her law would face 10 to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. 

Alabama already has a similar law, passed earlier this year, but a federal judge blocked its enforcement, ruling that the state hasn’t provided any credible evidence that this health care is “experimental.”

Greene also wants everyone armed so they can shoot transgender people and drag queens. She tweeted that unlimited gun ownership “will be a tool to disarm any gun owner that wants to stop abortion, the trans agenda on kids, mass illegal migration, & big government oppression suffocating our families, faith & freedoms.” She maintains that without guns, these haters will be persecuted by the media. She concluded by saying “every single Republican must wake up and face this frightening reality” where people who make threats against trans people and drag queens might lose their guns.

The next prosecuted category could be witches, now that the last Salem witch has been exonerated, thanks to an eighth-grade class in Andover (MA). Elizabeth Johnson, 22, was judged guilty but not executed, which eliminated her from exoneration when the state legislature exonerated all those put to death in the trials—in 2001. After an intense lobbying campaign by eighth-grade students, legislation has pardoned the last wrongly convicted Salem witch, but other states may go in a different direction. Perhaps students could also start work on other persecuted categories—like LGBTQ people and pregnant women.

July 24, 2022

Christian Nationlists Drive Away Church Members

Religious leaders in the U.S., like the conservative Supreme Court justices, want to make the U.S. a theocracy, overturning rights such as abortion and moving forward to block contraception, marriage equality, etc. With the growing prevalence of Christian nationalism (aka white supremacy) since Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) was elected in 2016, however, Christianity is losing numbers in its congregations. For the first time, a majority of people don’t belong to any church; only 47 percent have a membership. Only 14 percent of people in the U.S. identify as evangelical Christians.  

The movement from a “feel-good,” “uplifting approach” to hateful political Christian nationalists rants in sermons may be partly responsible. Instead of “welcoming and inclusive,” one pastor in a large St. Louis church prepares his audience for a bloody “final battle” where “the bullets are real.” He assigns books and documentaries about the evidence-free election fraud of 2020, and calls Christianity a “battleship.” Sermons began to sound like “Fox News” at the beginning of DDT’s term, even calling the COVID vaccine “the mark of the beast.” People started leaving halfway through the sermons about “critical race theory,” and new faces were older and whiter.

Christian nationalists believe the U.S. is a completely Christian nation and should follow evangelical beliefs. They want to erase separation and state while claiming biblical references for right-wing culture issues such as the drag queen story hours. DDT is represented as a Christ-like figure, and the violent Proud Boys provide security for Christian nationalist pastors.

A breaking point for many parishioners was insisting on in-person services during the pandemic. Churches had millions of dollars stashed away but ignored the growing poverty caused by lockdowns. People left the radicalized churches because they showed no love for people.

In 2019, the 86-year-old group Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, composed of ministers, lawyers, and political activists, formed the Christians Against Christian Nationalism. It calls Christian nationalism a “damaging political ideology,” a “persistent threat to both our religious communities and our democracy.” According to its initiative, Christian nationalism “often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.” The group also wrote the 2021 report identifying Christian nationalism as the driving ideology behind the Capitol riot.

Evangelical Christians are lobbying conservative Supreme Court justices by wining, dining, and entertaining them for conservative positions on abortion, homosexuality, open gun use, and other issues for several decades. Couples meeting with the justices were directed to focus on “the importance of a child having a father and a mother” and say, “We believe you are here for a time like this.” They report back to the group regarding their progress. VP Peggy Nienaber of Faith and Liberty, part of the legal group Liberty Counsel, prayed with justices. A staffer for Liberty Counsel behind much of the anti-civil rights litigation, reclassified as an “association of churches” in 2018, also said she prays with conservative justices inside the court building.

Since DDT’s election in 2016, activist groups can much more easily gain church status, hiding themselves from financial examination and taxes. An example is the Family Research Council (FRC), steps from the U.S. Capitol and the White House. Its legislative lobbying opposes gender-affirming surgery, abortion, and civil rights through religious exemptions. FRC’s parent organization, Focus on the Family, became a church in 2016. Groups with church status are not required to file public tax returns, reveal key staffer salaries and other officials such as board members, and give such information as grants and large payments to independent contractors. They cannot be audited without permission from a high-level Treasury official.

The IRS has 14 characteristics to identify churches or association of churches, but an organization doesn’t need to meet all 14. FRC states the group has almost 40,000 churches in its association but didn’t name them. It performs ceremonies bush as baptisms and has schools, but these are the responsibilities of the unnamed churches. Although FRC stated it holds regular chapel services for its 65 employees at its office building, a staffer denied the claim.

In early 2022, the American Family Association running the influential American Family Radio network, a film studio, and a magazine changed its designation to a church. It sends out frequent “action alerts”asking subscribers to sign petitions opposing government appointees or boycott media and brands that it identifies as supporting LGBTQ rights or abortion access.

Churches also have a “ministerial exemption” to hiring discrimination laws for religious leaders; i.e., Catholic churches can exclude women when hiring priests. Judicial rulings permit churches to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and other reasons.

The IRS does not reveal how many groups apply to come churches and how many applications it denies. With the proliferation of right-wing political activist groups becoming churches, the Satanic Temple received church recognition in 2019 and is now suing Texas, claiming that the state’s abortion restrictions inhibit the liberty of the organization’s members to practice their religious rituals. The FRC and Liberty Counsel complain that the Satanic Temple is too political to be a church, but the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the FRC, Liberty Counsel and the American Family Association as hate groups for their anti-LGBTQ stances and advocacy. Their theocratic direction, however, leads them to influence politics away from democracy.

Rules prohibiting public, tax-exempt charities including churches from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office” dates back to 1954. These tax-exempt groups, however, can deal in “issue advocacy” such as voter education. If their lobbying is not a “substantial part” of their activities, they can lobby for political causes. For direct political activities, the FRC uses another tax-exempt organization, a social welfare organization called Family Research Council Action, which actively endorses candidates and lobbies for legislation. It is registered at the same address and shares five part-time employees with the FRC with FRC listing no full-time employees.

Scandals are also driving people away from churches. A Southwest Missouri boys’ boarding and reform school faces 19 lawsuits for physical and emotional abuse of the students and violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act by misrepresenting or concealing information from parents, such as the quality of education provided, activities at the school, discipline practices, and food and medical treatment. State AG Eric Schmitt asked Gov. Mike Parson for 65 criminal courts against 22 individuals connected to Agapè Boarding School. A longtime physician for the school also faces charges of child sex crime charges in another county. Still open and enrolling students, the Christian school, a ministry of Agapè Baptist Church, supposedly “turns around rebellious boys.”

In the Daily Beast, Kate Briquelet reported on her interviews with former students:

“They encountered a climate … like Lord of the Flies, where staff were given free rein to restrain and beat students, and where some kids were emotionally and sexually abused. They claim Agapé has functioned like a ‘cult’ and ‘Christian torture compound’ for decades, allowing adults to manhandle teenagers and withhold food, water, and proper clothing — apparently without most parents ever knowing.

“[Agapé] banned children from speaking to each other without adults present, censored their letters home, destroyed photographs showing anything other than happy faces, and admonished kids that if they ran away, locals with guns would hunt them down.”

Finally closed seven years ago, West Virginia’s Blue Creek Academy, another “reform” school for boys and part of the nearby Independent Fundamental Church, was an “alternative to today’s degenerate, secular culture and education methods.” It subjected boys to neglect, isolation, silence, rat-infested quarters, physical beating, and sexual abuse. Religious schools in West Virginia don’t need to comply with any standards, and the state is not unique with other states providing no control over these schools. Pastors consider school licensing an “intrusion into freedom of the church’s rights.” No website tracks schools, and the Supreme Court may require taxpayers to pay for tuition to them.

In May, the Southern Baptist Convention released a report about 703 pastors and church workers accused of sexual abuse, most of the cases suppressed by the churches by years and kept in a secret database for almost two decades. Assaulters went to the highest level with one leader sexually assaulting a woman one month after he finished a two-year tenure as convention president. Heather Cox Richardson provides an overview of SBC’s deterioration and declining enrollment.

A survivor of abuse said:

“This is a denomination that is through and through about power. It is misappropriated power… I am so gutted.”

The Southern Baptists said the denomination couldn’t put together a registry of sex offenders because it goes against how it functions. One reason, however, is that leaders were afraid of being sued. Private emails also showed how leaders believed sexual abuse concerns were “a satanic scheme to completely distract us from evangelism.” Russell Moore, who left his position in 2021 as head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “The depths of wickedness and inhumanity in this report are breathtaking.”  

Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s speechwriter, wrote about “a culture of brutal chauvinism that has grown up for generations around Christianity… An utter failure to prioritize abused women and children is the largest crisis of institutional religion in the United States.”

And the Republicans—including the Supreme Court majority—promote the practice.

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