Thursday, May 21, 2015

Short Takes

California clean-up crews are rushing to clean up an oil spill north of Santa Barbara.

The Nebraska legislature voted to abolish the death penalty.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) goes Jimmy Stewart over the USA PATRIOT Act.

Turns out Osama bin Laden read Bob Woodward.

Israel rescinded their segregated-buses-for-Palestinians plan.

The Tigers beat the Brewers 5-2.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Court To NSA: You Can’t Do That

A federal court has ruled that bulk collection of phone data by the N.S.A. is illegal.

In a 97-page ruling, a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a provision of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, known as Section 215, cannot be legitimately interpreted to allow the bulk collection of domestic calling records.

The provision of the act used to justify the bulk data program is to expire June 1, and the ruling is certain to increase tension that has been building in Congress.

Good.  I’ve never been either that ego-centric or paranoid that I worry if the N.S.A. is listening in on my phone calls or collecting the data from them; lately all they would see is a bunch of calls from “UNKNOWN CALLER” or “PHONE CALL” that call during the day and no one’s there.  It just seems like an incredible waste of time and money to gather all that data with the hope of finding something nefarious.  And if a terrorist is stupid enough to pick up the phone and plot something that tips off the N.S.A. — “Hey, let’s go toss a Molotov cocktail or two” — chances are they’re too dumb to pull off anything other than trip over the cat and blow themselves up.

The USA PATRIOT Act is a dubious piece of legislation passed in the panic-stricken days after September 11, 2001.  No good laws are passed when the ruins are still smoldering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Short Takes

Unimaginable: The death toll from the earthquake in Nepal passes 4,000.

Protests in Baltimore turned violent Monday afternoon.

A second police official in Tulsa, Oklahoma has resigned over the accidental shooting of a black man by a reserve cop.

Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the Attorney General.

The Tigers beat the Twins 5-4.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Short Takes

Standoff in the Gulf between the U.S. and Iran continues.

Saudi Arabia is ending its airstrikes in Yemen.

Over 850 reported dead in the Mediterranean after immigrant-smuggling ship capsizes.

The Senate will finally get to vote on Loretta Lynch’s nomination to be Attorney General.

A real Monkey Trial: Chimpanzees are granted the right to sue for unlawful imprisonment.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees 5-2.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tough Sell

I’m sure there’s a joke out there about how easy it is to get a lawyer to represent even the most heinous or ridiculous client as long as there’s a chance of a retainer or billable hours; as one of my lawyer friends says, “They’re innocent until indigent.”  But what about taking up the side of a case that has a high profile — say going before the Supreme Court — and is on the unpopular side of a social issue?

Every criminal defendant is entitled to a lawyer who will defend him or her to the best of their ability.  Not so with civil cases, and where the side of history is definitely moving in one direction, it’s getting increasingly hard to find prominent attorneys who will defend the other side.  According to Adam Liptak at the New York Times, that’s what’s happening with marriage equality.

Leading law firms are willing to represent tobacco companies accused of lying about their deadly products, factories that spew pollution, and corporations said to be complicit in torture and murder abroad. But standing up for traditional marriage has turned out to be too much for the elite bar. The arguments have been left to members of lower-profile firms.

In dozens of interviews, lawyers and law professors said the imbalance in legal firepower in the same-sex marriage cases resulted from a conviction among many lawyers that opposition to such unions is bigotry akin to racism. But there were economic calculations, too. Law firms that defend traditional marriage may lose clients and find themselves at a disadvantage in hiring new lawyers.

Conservatives are claiming that attorneys who are anti-gay marriage are being “bullied into silence.”  In reality, the fact is that a good attorney is going to have a rather difficult time coming up with an argument for keeping marriage bans in place that do not rely on Scriptural imprecations — not something that will go over very well in a secular court system — or by invoking some pretzel-logic that states that the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause doesn’t apply to gay people.  (Several weeks ago I asked a prominent defense attorney to come up with a reason for denying gay couples the right to marry.  His reply was that the way he would go would be to base it on states’ rights, but he also admitted that that line of reasoning had lost its appeal after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

I also think the attorneys who are shying away from defending anti-gay marriage laws are well aware that they are arguing for the wrong side both in terms of civil rights and history.  And even if they should win, they will still go on the record as being the lawyer for the side that stood in the way of our inevitable movement towards full equality.  That’s probably not something you want to have on your c.v.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Short Takes

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev found guilty on all counts in Boston Marathon bombing.

The police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C. has been fired and charged with murder.

An Afghan soldier opened fire at a group of U.S. troops in the city of Jalalabad

Indictments near in George Washington Bridge scandal.

The Tigers shut out the Twins 11-0.  The Perfect Season continues.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Short Takes

Russia says it has the right to put nukes in Crimea.

Iraq makes gains — and losses — against ISIS.

Secretary of State Kerry bashes the 47 letter.

Ferguson chief of police resigns.

Two police officers shot in Ferguson after protest.

Utah okays firing squad as backup for executions.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Null Set

If Mike Huckabee really wants to be president, he needs to learn the basics of how our government works.

“If the courts make a decision, I hear governors and even some aspirants to the presidency say well, that’s settled, and it’s the law of the land,” he said. “No, it isn’t the law of the land. Constitutionally, the courts cannot make a law. They can interpret one. And then the legislature has to create enabling legislation, and the executive has to sign it, and has to enforce it.”

According to Huckabee, the legislative branch would need to draw up legislation to legalize same sex marriage.

“This idea that a judge makes a ruling on Friday afternoon, and Saturday morning same sex marriage licenses are being given out, that’s utter nonsense, because there’s not been any agreement with the other two branches of government,” he said.

He’s right in that the courts cannot make a law.  They can, however, rule on whether or not a law is constitutional, and if it is not, they can invalidate it.  The law may still be on the books — I am pretty sure that there are states in the South that still have Jim Crow laws enshrined — but the court ruling makes them null and void.  That’s why we have courts like the Supreme Court, whose main job is to interpret the Constitution.

If the Supreme Court rules that various state laws and constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage violate the United States Constitution, the laws become unenforceable.  The states do not have to repeal them, but the folks who issue marriage licenses don’t have to obey it.

Funny, I didn’t hear Mr. Huckabee complaining about “judicial supremacy” when the Hobby Lobby or Citizens United ruling came down.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Base Player

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, Class of 1996.  Someone should look into who taught him Constitutional law because they need to fire that professor.

On the matter of same-sex marriage in Florida, Mr. Rubio noted,

“I do not believe that there is a U.S. constitutional right to same-sex marriage,” Rubio told the media. “Now, as I’ve said before, states have a right to change their laws. I don’t believe it’s unconstitutional. I just don’t believe there’s a constitutional right to it.”

Okay, I’m not a lawyer and I didn’t go to law school like he did, but even I know history and that way back in 1967 — four years before Mr. Rubio was born — the United States Supreme Court held in Loving v. Virginia that the right to marriage — in that case between two people of different races — was a fundamental right.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

So, Mr. Rubio has it wrong on the concept of the constitutionality of marriage as a right and is apparently unaware of the precedent.  (I do hope that he’s not harboring the belief that people of different races shouldn’t marry.)  He also seems to lack the basic understanding that there is a difference between the laws that get passed or referenda that get tacked on to the state constitution and the rights we have as citizens.  Under our present form of government, we have a judiciary branch — co-equal with the legislative and executive — whose primary purpose is to decide whether or not the actions of the other branches are following the rules.  The courts exist to prevent the legislatures or the people from violating the law or taking away the fundamental rights of the people.

Mr. Rubio also seems to forget that the courts have overturned laws passed by Congress that I’m sure he’s glad they did: Citizens United, for one.  In his nascent plans to run for president, he’s probably thrilled that corporations have had their fundamental rights to pour money into a campaign, and I’m sure he’s going to take advantage of it.

What’s happening is that Marco Rubio is trying to outflank his fellow Floridian and mentor Jeb Bush in cornering the market on right-wing nutsery, and bashing marriage equality and the LGBT population is his way of doing that.  As I’ve noted before, he has yet to come up with a reason to oppose marriage equality that isn’t based on bigotry, discrimination, and intolerance.  But that’s what sells to the Republican primary voters, and no one ever lost an election by pandering to the basest base.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Short Takes

The White House says President Obama will veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill if it passes.

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell gets two years in prison for corruption.

Federal officials are investigating a small explosion near the NAACP offices in Colorado Springs.

John Boehner gets re-elected Speaker of the House.

Mexican President Nieto praises Obama administration on immigration.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Short Takes

ISIS keeps attacking an airbase in Iraq with little to show for it.

Nuclear talks with Iran are making some progress.

Sorry, Louie — Conservative insurgents don’t have the votes to overthrow Speaker Boehner.

Oil continues to sink, falling below $50 a barrel.

Jury selection begins in Boston Marathon bombing trial.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Legal v. Moral

Justice Antonin Scalia told a Swiss radio interviewer that the Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit torture.

The 78-year-old justice says he doesn’t “think it’s so clear at all,” especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb.

Scalia says nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.

The Constitution doesn’t explicitly prohibit the mass murder of school children with assault rifles, either, yet I’m pretty sure that the people who wrote it were not in favor of it.  The Eighth Amendment does rule out “cruel and unusual punishment,” but to Justice Scalia, “rectal feeding” must be neither.  Okay….

Even if you accept his reasoning, just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On One Condition

I’m all in favor of the proposal put forward by Anthony D. Romero of the ACLU to grant a presidential pardon to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the gang that authorized and facilitated torturing people.  Make it a full and free pardon, too, and make sure that they take it without coercion or threat.  They don’t even have to confess to the crimes or admit guilt; by accepting the pardon, they’re doing that anyway.

The only condition I’d impose is that they leave the country.    They can take their wives and families; they can even keep their pension.  Just get out and go somewhere far, far away and never come back.  (How about Uruguay; I hear they’re taking prisoners from Gitmo.)

Let the banishment fit the crime.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Silent Killers

Via the Guardian:

Republican lawmakers in Ohio are rushing through the most extreme secrecy bill yet attempted by a death penalty state, which would withhold information on every aspect of the execution process from the public, media and even the courts.

Legislators are trying to force through the bill, HB 663, in time for the state’s next scheduled execution, on 11 February. Were the bill on the books by then, nothing about the planned judicial killing of convicted child murderer Ronald Phillips – from the source of the drugs used to kill him and the distribution companies that transport the chemicals, to the identities of the medical experts involved in the death chamber – would be open to public scrutiny of any sort.

Unlike other death penalty states that have shrouded procedures in secrecy, the Ohio bill seeks to bar even the courts from access to essential information. Attorneys representing death-row inmates, for instance, would no longer be able to request disclosure under court protection of the identity and qualifications of medical experts who advised the state on their techniques.

“This bill is trying to do an end run around the courts. When things aren’t going well, the state is making its actions secret because they don’t want people to see them screwing up,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Ohio.

The way they’re going about this, you would think that they’re somehow ashamed of what they’re doing; as if they know that killing someone is wrong even if the convict is the worst criminal in their jails.

If they were so sure that what they were doing was right, they’d open the records, let everyone know exactly how they’re doing it, and perhaps even put it on TV.  That would reveal capital punishment in its truest sense: state-sanctioned revenge, and it might be a deterrent, not just some way of getting rid of the excess prison population.

HT to FC.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

No True Bill

Via TPM:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Full and Fair Consideration

In a rational world, there should be no reason that Loretta Lynch shouldn’t be confirmed right away as the next Attorney General.  After all, she’s been through Senate confirmation twice before, and as Steve Benen points out, she was approved unanimously.

Ah, but the trick is I said “in a rational world,” and that excludes the whacky world of the GOP and Sen. Ted Cruz.

The junior senator from Texas opined that her confirmation should wait until after the new Senate is sworn in in January because it would be totally wrong to confirm any cabinet position during the lame duck session.

President Obama’s Attorney General nominee deserves fair and full consideration of the United States Senate, which is precisely why she should not be confirmed in the lame duck session of Congress by senators who just lost their seats and are no longer accountable to the voters.

But that rule only applies to Democratic presidents.  In November 2006, after the Republicans lost a lot of seats in the midterms, President Bush fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and appointed Robert Gates to replace him.  He was confirmed 95-2 in December 2006; long before the new Senate was seated.  As far as the Constitution is concerned, the new Senate doesn’t get to work until January 2015.  It’s not like the current one went out of business on November 5.  (Well, at least technically it didn’t; it’s had the lights out for the last four years as far as getting anything done is concerned.)

I suspect that Mr. Cruz’s objection is merely a delaying tactic until the new Senate is seated, but for the life of me I can’t fathom any other reason that a black woman appointed by a black Democratic president would face any trouble being confirmed by a GOP majority-led Senate, can you?