Wednesday, April 16, 2014

All Booked Up

The Louisiana legislature is voting to get themselves sued in federal court.

Legislation that would make the Holy Bible the official state book of Louisiana cleared the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs with a vote of 8-5 Thursday afternoon. It will now head to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, originally filed a bill to declare a specific copy of the Bible, found in the Louisiana State Museum system, the official state book. But by the time he presented the proposal to the committee, he changed language  in his legislation to make the generic King James version of the Bible, a text used worldwide, the official state book.

Carmody said his intention was not to mingle religion with government functions. “This is not about establishing an official religion,” he said.

Well, it’s nice to know that the wise souls in Baton Rouge think the state has the money to spare to fight a losing court battle.  That’s money well-spent and avoids having to spend it on something frivolous, like Medicare expansion.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

License to Kill

If you’re a white person in Florida and you kill a black person, the death penalty is off the table.

Florida has executed 84 people since the Supreme Court announced the modern death penalty regime in 1976. Zero of them are white people sentenced to death for killing an African American. Indeed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, “no white person has ever been executed for killing an African American” in the state of Florida.

You might even get your own autograph booth at a gun show.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Short Takes

Russia keeps rattling its sabre over Ukraine.

There may be a deal in the works to extend unemployment benefits.

Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) finally got asked tough questions about GWB at a town hall.

Attorney General Eric Holder calls for reduced drug case sentences.

Sign up now — The Obamacare deadline won’t get extended.

R.I.P. Reubin Askew, former Florida governor.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

They Can’t All Be Activists

Yet another state ban on marriage equality has been knocked down, this time in Texas.  The ruling was from District Judge Orlando Garcia.  In December, Utah’s ban was overturned by District Judge Robert J. Shelby.  Since then, Oklahoma and Virginia have seen their laws overturned by District Judge Terence C. Kern and District Judge Arenda Wright Allen respectively.

As the Religious Right will tell you, they’re all activists: unelected dictators ignoring the will of the people to write laws from the bench, and they have no right to impose their elitist will on the rest of the country.

What’s more likely is that these four judges all saw the same thing: state laws that targeted a segment of the population for discrimination without proving that their behavior or intentions jeopardized anyone else or that the state had an overriding interest in preventing marriage between two people.  That makes them unconstitutional according to the United States Supreme Court, and they ruled accordingly.  That’s not activism: that’s how the judicial system is supposed to work.

What’s ironic is that this all could have been avoided if the Religious Right hadn’t pushed through the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.  It was done so at a time when same-sex marriage was barely on the radar of anyone and the likelihood that it would ever come to pass was as remote as Liberace winning the Mr. Universe contest.  But pass it they did, leading to the court challenge and the ruling last summer by the Supreme Court, specifically citing the equal protection clause.  That precedent — as well as Justice Scalia’s prescient dissent — is the basis for the rulings from the four District courts.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Not In Kansas Anymore

The Kansas legislature wisely turned away from enacting legalized gay-bashing in the name of religious freedom; at least this session.  So the torch has been passed to another bunch of bigots, this time in Arizona.

The Arizona Senate voted 17-13 along party lines on Wednesday to approve SB 1062, a bill that would allow “any individual” to practice their religious beliefs without government consequence — essentially imposing a religious license to discriminate throughout the state. The House may take it up as early as Thursday.The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R), asserts that “this bill is not about discrimination,” but about “preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.” The bill would clearly go a step farther and allow those individuals to impose their religious beliefs on others. Like bills that have been proposed in other states but faltered, that most obviously would mean open season to discriminate against the LGBT community. Democratic Senators who opposed the bill highlighted numerous other possibilities that its vague language would allow:

Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, said the measure would allow a hotel operator who believes Mormonism is a cult to refuse to provide rooms to a family who walked in wearing Brigham Young T-shirts, indicating their religion. [...]

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, wondered openly whether SB 1062 would provide new license for people like Warren Jeffs, head of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, to act against those who refuse to follow his edicts.

And Sen. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said the wording of the measure even would allow those who worship Satan to use their beliefs as a legal shield.

Yarbrough offered no counterargument to these claims, simply acknowledging that “the freedom of religion can be inconvenient.” He has previously said that such discrimination isn’t really a problem so long as there’s another business willing to provide the service nearby.

He gets a bonus square on Bigot Bingo by throwing in the idea of “separate but equal.”  The Christian baker won’t sell you a wedding cake?  Fine, try the Jewish deli next door.

The blatant unconstitutionality of this bill is so obvious that even I get it.  The bill allows discrimination as long as its along sincerely held religious grounds.  That requires the establishment of some standards of what “sincerely held” means and WHAM: there’s that pesky old First Amendment.  The state cannot define what qualifies as a valid religion without crossing that line.

Then the law of unintended consequences kicks in with a vengeance.  Any individual can practice their religious beliefs without government consequence?  Setting aside the anti-gay discrimination, this opens the door to all sorts of things such as slavery (“Hey, it’s in the bible”) and stoning people to death for planting wheat next to corn.  Speaking of stoning, I can see a whole lot of new faiths springing up like the Church of the Holy Bong where blazing a doobie is as sacred as a sip of wine at communion.  That’s not a communion wafer, it’s a peyote button.

I hope the good people of Arizona have set aside a lot of money to pay the lawyers because of the hundreds of lawsuits that will be filed and which they will most assuredly lose.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kansas Gets Back to Reality… For Now

Cooler heads and sanity finally got some traction in Kansas to put the brakes on a bill that would have legalized gay-bashing.

A bill that would have allowed individuals to refuse to provide business services to same-sex couples in Kansas because of religious beliefs met a surprising and quick end last week when conservative senators sided with liberal advocates in saying that the measure promoted discrimination.

The bill had passed the House, 72 to 49, last Wednesday and it appeared that it might also easily sail through the Senate. Both chambers are controlled by conservative Republicans who in recent years have passed some of the most conservative legislation in the country, whether on gun control, abortion rights or taxes.

Susan Wagle, a conservative Republican who is president of the Kansas Senate, raised opposition to the House measure, saying she had “grown concerned about the practical impact of the bill” and “my members don’t condone discrimination.”

Ms. Wagle was backed by Senator Jeff King, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who said he would not hold hearings on the House bill. Instead, Mr. King said, his committee would hold hearings on the broader topic of religious freedom in Kansas and explore whether the Legislature needed to take any further steps to shore up those protections.

Much as I would like to think that the turnaround was based on the realization that the law would trample on human and civil rights, it actually came down to the fact that it would be both bad for business in the state and that they would also spend a lot of taxpayer dollars defending the indefensible.

Opponents included the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which said that the measure could lead to increased costs for businesses. The chamber took particular exception to a provision in the bill that said that if an employee of the government or “other nonreligious entity” objected to providing a service based on religious beliefs, the employer would have to find another employee to fill in or find some other way to provide the service.

Businesses were “not interested in getting into these guessing games as to someone’s intent and whether a strongly held religious belief is legitimate or not,” said Mike O’Neal, the president of the chamber.

Don’t call the battle won.  The proponents will try again with something more cleverly worded and just as insidious.  These people never give up.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kansas To Legalize Gay-Bashing

The Kansas legislature is on the verge of passing a law that would make it legal to discriminate against people based on religious intolerance.

The Kansas House has approved a bill aimed at keeping individuals, groups and businesses from being compelled to help with same-sex weddings.

The House’s 72-49 vote Wednesday sends the measure to the Senate.

Supporters describe it as a religious freedom measure. Opponents contend it will encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The bill would bar government sanctions when individuals, groups and businesses cite religious beliefs in refusing to recognize a marriage or civil union, or to provide goods, services, accommodations or employment benefits to a couple. Anti-discrimination lawsuits also would be barred. Individual workers and government employees also would get some protections.

From a Facebook entry I wrote yesterday:

To my dear friends in Kansas: Let me ask you this in the gentlest and Friendliest (as in Quakerly) way possible: Has your state legislature lost its mind? They have voted to legalize religious bigotry and discrimination against anyone they don’t like. They use weasel words, but it’s clearly directed at the LGBT community. They presume that all religions and denominations hate gay people and are opposed to marriage equality, and they presume that it’s perfectly legal to deny equal protection or public accommodations on the grounds that they think gays are icky.

It’s codified gay-bashing, not unlike the Jim Crow laws of the past, and I hope that you will rise up in with the strength and determination that I know each of you has and let your elected leaders know that you will not allow Kansas to be turned into Torquemadastan.

By the way, your tax dollars are going to pay for the inevitable lawsuits that will arise from this law which the state will most assuredly lose based on the First Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, not to mention the basic tenets of human decency.

That’s what’s the matter with Kansas.

The Windsor Dynasty

Yet another federal judge has cited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent in the Windsor vs. United States ruling that struck down DOMA in knocking down a state law in Kentucky against marriage equality.

In ruling Wednesday that Kentucky must recognize out-of-state gay marriages, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II referenced Scalia’s dissents in the Court’s decisions to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act and strike down state laws that ban sodomy.

It wasn’t as big a rhetorical bear hug as the outspoken conservative justice received in December from the federal judge who overturned Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage, but it was further evidence of Scalia’s prescience when he declared that the DOMA decision would inevitably undercut state laws on marriage.

Heyburn observed that the Court’s decision to overturn DOMA laid the foundation for his decision Wednesday to invalidate part of a Kentucky’s law that prohibited the recognition of gay marriages performed in other states. He then name-checked Scalia and his similar observations in his dissent in the DOMA case, Windsor v. United States.

“Indeed, Justice Scalia stated that Windsor indicated the way the Supreme Court would view future cases involving same-sex marriage ‘beyond mistaking,’” he wrote.

Be careful what you wish for, Justice Scalia.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Friday, January 17, 2014

Null Set

A group of Tea Party folk who don’t like much of anything since Reconstruction are coming up with a solution: pass a Constitutional amendment that lets a small group of disgruntled whackos overturn the Constitution.

That’s basically the dream of conservative activist Charles Kacprowicz, as described in a recent conference call with supporters, effectively summing up many of the deepest hopes and fears of right-wing America in the post-Bush era.

“The best that we have now is the idea of nullification. But the states right now do not have a provision in the Constitution that allows them to countermand laws,” Kacprowicz said. But he’s crafted a proposal that would change all that. “With this provision, in the Sovereignty and States Rights Amendment, they can countermand it, and they can disallow it when 30 states say ‘let’s stop.’ ”

Naturally, Kacprowicz had a red meat example close at hand. “Obamacare right now has at least 26 states who have already filed lawsuits against the government for imposing on them the tax and the imposition of Obamacare on the states,” he continued. “That’s already going forward. So you have that right there. We need four more states and Obamacare is history. And so that’s the kind of power that this has in this sovereignty amendment.”

[...]

Of course, nullification is unconstitutional. The text of Article VI is crystal clear:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.  [emphasis added]

The stark disconnect between textual reality and the “constitutional” rhetoric of today’s Tea Party-era conservatism could hardly be clearer.

Naturally, these geniuses don’t think of the other side of this possibility: that a small minority of people could rise up and invalidate a whole bunch of federal laws that the righties might be in favor of, such as all those federal gun protections the NRA has whooped into law.  I wonder how they would like them apples.

Aside from the fact that this is your basic case of tantrum foot-stomping, it shows us that we really need to spend more money on education in this country, because obviously we’re not getting through to the Elmer Fudd crowd.

HT to NTodd.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Compelling Interest

For the second time in less than a month, a federal court has knocked down a state’s ban on same-sex marriage.  First it was Utah on December 20, and now it’s Oklahoma.

The state’s ban on marriage by gay and lesbian couples is “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit,” wrote Judge Terence C. Kern of United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, in Tulsa, deciding a case that had languished for nine years. The amendment, he said, is based on “moral disapproval” and does not advance the state’s asserted interests in promoting heterosexual marriage or the welfare of children.

The state could not prove that there was a compelling interest in preventing same-sex couples from getting married.  No one could prove that, as in the case in Oklahoma, two women getting married to each other presented a threat to straight couples or that the opposition to marriage equality was based on anything more than prejudice and moral disapproval.  In other words, you can’t ban gay marriage because you think gays are icky.

That’s the same logic that was used in the Utah ruling, and it’s become a common thread throughout the rulings that have come down on the side of marriage equality.  It’s not that the judges are all in cahoots with the vast radical homosexual agenda to undermine straight people and make a mockery of heterosexual nuptials such as those of the Kardashians (although to hear the ignorant tightasses at the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage, that’s exactly what’s going on).  It’s that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal justice under the law provides a rather high bar for depriving an entire community of government benefits.  There has to be a really good reason for denying equal protection and benefits, and so far, no one has been able to do that, at least at the federal circuit court level regarding state bans on marriage equality.

The courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have already spoken on cases similar to the ones in Utah and Oklahoma.  In Romer v. Evans, Colorado’s Amendment 2 that banned municipalities from implementing anti-gay discrimination laws was thrown out because, as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, it was little more than gay-bashing written into state law:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.[12]

[...]

[Amendment 2] is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.

That is also the logic used to overturn Texas’s ban on sodomy in Lawrence v. Texas and, most recently, in United States v. Windsor, the ruling last June that effectively killed off the odious Defense of Marriage Act: the state could not prove that there was a compelling reason for discrimination.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  As more and more cases make their way to the courts and up the chain to the marbled halls of the Supreme Court, the simple task of proving that there is more to stopping gay marriage than moral outrage and threats of divine retribution from a supernatural being, and an obsessive interest in the consensual acts of two people in the privacy of their home.

The compelling interest that is at stake is that all citizens of this country are entitled to the same rights as everyone else.  So if marriage equality is, as the anti-gay groups are a little too passionate to complain about, something being “shoved down their throats,” then their complaint lies with the men who wrote the Constitution in the first place, not with the people who are trying to secure the rights they were promised and are entitled to as a matter of life, liberty, and the pursuit of whatever it is that makes life worth living.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Freak Out In Utah

Via TPM, the bats are loose in Utah.

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association on Saturday organized a meeting in Highland, Utah to call for an uprising and to express their opposition to same-sex marriage in Utah, Fox 13 Now Salt Lake City reported.

“The people of Utah have rights, too, not just the homosexuals. The homosexuals are shoving their agenda down our throats,” Former Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff Richard Mack said at the meeting.

A federal judge in December struck down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, and courts subsequently denied the state’s request for a temporary stay, which would keep counties from issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while the state appeals the ruling.

By the third stay denial, most counties in Utah were issuing licenses to all couples.

Mack said that Gov. Gary Herbert (R) failed the people of Utah.

“State sovereignty supercedes [sic] what this judge did,” Mack said. “The Governor needs to get some courage and grip.”

In spite of their name, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association does not seem to understand that federal laws and the federal constitution supersede state laws, as do federal courts.  Nullification by states of federal law has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court under Article III.  (Not to mention that there was a civil war to settle the matter.  It was in all the papers.)

Not that it matters to these bozos; their understanding of law is based on what they hear on AM radio and Fox News, so as far as they’re concerned, the federal government is the jackboot on the necks of the the people unless there’s a natural disaster, wildfire, flood, or farm subsidies.  Then they’re standing in line with their hand out, of course, and they were very much in favor of such federal decrees as the Defense of Marriage Act.

Also, it’s funny how these people are always obsessed with homosexuals “shoving their agenda down our throats.”  Um, not to get too technical, but if you have to shove it, you’re going at it all wrong.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Short Takes

No deal after White House meeting with Congressional leaders.

BP gets a partial victory in settlement battle.

Overflowing tank causes new leaks at Fukishima.

Working out the kinks in the health exchange system.

R.I.P. Tom Clancy, 66, best-selling author.

Parts of Miami-Dade County — including Palmetto Bay — under flash flood warning.

Cleveland is out of the playoffs.

Tropical Update: Jerry is now a tropical depression.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Short Takes

House Republicans vote for deep cuts in food stamps.

Court overturns Tom DeLay’s corruption convictions.

Pope says Catholics should lighten up.

Rick Scott wants to take random drug testing for state workers to the Supreme Court.

Tropical Update: The remnants of Humberto rain on Mexico.

The Tigers beat Seattle 5-4; the magic number is four.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013