Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One For, One Against

Can’t we all just get along?

Two federal appeals court panels issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on whether the government could subsidize health insurance premiums for people in three dozen states that use the federal insurance exchange. The decisions are the latest in a series of legal challenges to central components of President Obama’s health care law.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, upheld the subsidies, saying that a rule issued by the Internal Revenue Service was “a permissible exercise of the agency’s discretion.”

The ruling came within hours of a 2-to-1 ruling by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which said that the government could not subsidize insurance for people in states that use the federal exchange.

The administration will ask for an en banc ruling from the court that ruled 2-1 against Obamacare.  That means the whole court — including the three judges who ruled today — will hear the case and overturn the first ruling.  For now, let the Republicans have their little moment of joy because it won’t last.

This ruling could also have political implications for Republican governors and legislators in states without the healthcare exchanges.  TPM reader HW explains:

…will they build a state health insurance exchange or allow the taxes of a large number of their citizens to go up (remember these are tax credits their middle class citizens are losing, not Medicaid benefits their poorest citizens are not getting in the first place). If you are Rick Scott (FL), Scott Walker (WI), John Kasich (OH), Rick Snyder (MI), or Tom Corbett (PA), all facing competitive races and important races for the long term balance in the House of Representatives, you are faced with a lose-lose proposition. If you say, “still no exchange,” you are basically forcing a large tax increase on health care- that strikes me as a pretty good issue for their Democratic opponents to run on in the fall. If you say, “ok, we’ll build an exchange,” you are alienating your base going into the fall- and, of course, this problem goes away for Americans in these states.

That leaves it up to the Democrats to push the issue: “Hey, voters, Republicans want to raise your taxes and take away your affordable health insurance.”  Run on that, get the policy and the law right, and win the election.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Didn’t See This Coming

Oh, gee, no one could have predicted that when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and their right to corporate religion that it would have unforeseen consequences, now did they?

No, we’re not talking about a Christian college objecting to signing a paper.  We’re talking about something like this.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison “prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan.”

[...]

“Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons – human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien – enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the RFRA,” the lawyers argued in court papers. 

In its controversial Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the contraception insurance coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – violated the rights of “closely held for-profit corporations,” if a company’s owners object to birth control on religious grounds. The court, which decided the case 5-4, said that the mandate “substantially burdens” the corporation’s exercise of religion in violation of RFRA.

Did we miss that part of the ruling that says RFRA applies to Christians only?

Maybe the Supreme Court should have listened to this guy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Florida’s Turn

As court after court rule in favor of marriage equality, we’ve all wondered when Florida would get its turn to step up to the bar.  In one case filed back in January, that turn is today.

On July 2, 2014, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel will hear arguments on a motion for summary judgment in this state lawsuit with federal claims filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Equality Florida Institute.

[...]

On January 21, 2014, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Equality Florida Institute filed a lawsuit in state court with federal claims on behalf of six same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry in Florida. The lawsuit argues that laws in Florida that restrict marriage to different-sex couples violate the United States Constitution’s commitment to equal protection under the law.

The plaintiffs hail from Miami and the surrounding area. They include: Catherina Pareto and Karla Arguello, together for 14 years and raising a young son; Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez and David Price, together for 18 years and raising young twins; Vanessa and Melanie Alenier, together for 8 years and raising a child; Todd and Jeff Delmay, together for 11 years and raising a young son; Summer Greene and Pamela Faerber, grandparents who have been together for 25 years; and Don Price Johnston and Jorge Isaias Diaz, who recently got engaged.

The track record for the marriage equality cases since the Supreme Court handed down Windsor last year is perfect: not one court has ruled against a same-sex couple.  Let’s hope that Florida keeps the streak alive.

HT to Freedom to Marry.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Very Good Year

One year ago today the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Windsor, opening the door for same-sex marriage and LGBT rights on a scale that even the most optimistic dreamer could not imagine.

Yesterday, Indiana became the latest state to have its state law against marriage equality ruled unconstitutional, and literally ten minutes later a federal court in Denver ruled that Utah’s ban was also in violation of the Constitution.  That ruling by an appellate court pretty much guarantees that the case will be heard by the Supreme Court.  It’s anybody’s guess as to how the Court will rule on such a case, but at the rate things are going — twenty states now have full marriage equality, and in the states that don’t, their laws are being challenged in court — by the time the case gets to Washington, D.C., it could be all over but the last dying whimper of the sniveling bigots at the Family Research Council.

State of Same-Sex Marriage on 06-25-14

In a way, it was people like the Family Research Council and the hard-core Religious Reich that has made a lot of this progress possible.  Had it not been for them making such a big stink over what other people do in the privacy of their own home and forced a lot of people to examine their own lives, marriage equality would most likely have evolved slowly and ploddingly as states dealt with their own matters and not given a second thought to it.  But now many courageous people — straight as well as gay — stood up in the face of the tyranny of the shamers and defended the fundamental right as human beings to live their life with someone they love regardless of genitalia.  And the louder and more spittle-flecked the suppressed oppressors became, the more ludicrous and laughable their arguments grew until finally enough people, regardless of political or religious persuasion, said “At long last, enough.”

I have said all along that the case for marriage equality comes down to one simple fact: banning same-sex marriage — or any discrimination against the LGBT community, be it job discrimination, housing, or insurance benefits — violates the fundamental right we have as citizens to equal protection under the law.  Our rights cannot be taken away or curtailed simply for who we are or how we identify ourselves.  One freedom cannot apply to one person and not someone else without a good reason, and being black, Muslim, or gay is not a good enough reason.  We have already achieved — at least in the law — relief for the first two.  It is beyond time for the third.

In the ruling in the Utah case, the court noted the anniversary of the Windsor ruling and the swift progress of marriage equality:

In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such.

One of the reasons the courts have reached the same conclusion is because when you get right down to it, it’s not that hard a decision to make.  Marriage is a right, regardless of the participants, and so far no respondent to the suits has been able come up with an argument based in the law or Constitution that justifies the state or federal government enforcing the ban on marriage equality.

Who knows where we will be a year from now.  By then even Florida will have joined the others.  And ten years from now we will all look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Map via Shakesville.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Indiana Same-Sex Marriage Ban Overturned

Wow.

A federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday, ruling that gay couples have the same marriage rights as couples of opposing genders.

The ruling takes effect immediately, meaning same-sex couples can begin marrying Wednesday. The clerk in Marion County, home to Indianapolis, says the office will start issuing marriage licenses.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled that the state’s ban was unconstitutional. The ruling involves lawsuits from several gay couples.

The Indiana attorney general’s office says it will appeal but had no other immediate comment.

It’s been almost exactly a year since the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and ruled for same-sex marriage in the Windsor case.  Since then the state and federal courts have been striking down the state laws and constitutional amendments on an almost monthly basis.  And yet I never get tired of hearing the news.

Okay, Florida, your turn.

Via Melissa.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

“Victim” D’Souza Pleads Guilty

Conservative pundit and anti-Obama filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza pleaded guilty Tuesday to campaign law violations.

In January, D’Souza was indicted at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York for his 2012 donations to Wendy Long’s unsuccessful Senate campaign against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). The charges were that he had circumvented federal campaign finance limits by reimbursing associates for $20,000 worth of contributions made in their own names to Long’s campaign. He was also charged with making false statements to the Federal Election Commission in the straw donor scheme — a charge that will apparently be dropped as part of his plea agreement.

Conservatives from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to Fox blatherer Sean Hannity rushed to his defense, claiming Mr. D’Souza was being singled out by the Obama administration for being annoying.

According to Media Matters, Fox News host Sean Hannity called D’Souza the “latest victim to be targeted” and put on President Obama’s “enemies list,” the hosts of The Five called the charges “politically motivated” and an example of liberals “rediscovering their inner Stalin,” and Neil Cavuto called it an example of “conservatives under attack.”

But prosecutors filed evidence with court demonstrating that D’Souza’s claims of selective prosecution were “entirely without merit,” including audio recordings made by the husband of one of the straw donors that showed his wife discussing D’Souza’s plans in the event that the illegal donations were discovered.

D’Souza told the federal court on Tuesday, “I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids,” adding, “I deeply regret my conduct.”

For all their talk about being the party of personal responsibility and not making excuses for failure, these folks sure are quick to join the culture of victimhood.  And if he had any integrity at all, Mr. D’Souza should have quietly told his supporters to shut up because it only makes them look all the more foolish for speaking up when he knew he was going to cop a plea.

But the way this works is that when he gets out of jail he’ll join G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North as folk heroes on the right who did time for being against The Man.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Short Takes

U.S. Magistrate rules Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of execution for a Texas inmate.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the mediator for the Syrian peace talks, throws in the towel.

President Obama was briefed on the outbreak of MERS, a deadly respiratory virus, that showed up in Orlando.

Rep. John Conyers‘ (D-MI) re-election bid may be in trouble: his primary petitions lacked enough signatures.

The Tigers beat the Orioles 4-1.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

On and Off In Wisconsin

There’s a tug of war going on between judges in Wisconsin over the investigation into the recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

One day after a federal judge dramatically shut down the secret “John Doe” probe investigating Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) 2012 recall election, a federal appeals court on Wednesday stayed the lower judge’s ruling.

As The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit provides a way for District Judge Rudolph Randa to reissue his preliminary injunction halting the investigation. But the higher court said the part of Randa’s ruling that ordered state prosecutors to destroy or return all material obtained during the investigation will remain stayed “as long as proceedings continue in this court.”

The John Doe investigation, a type of proceeding prosecutors in Wisconsin use to determine whether or not to charge a criminal offense, was focused on campaign coordination between Walker’s campaign and outside conservative groups. One of the groups targeted by the investigation, Wisconsin Club for Growth, filed a lawsuit to stop the probe — and Randa ruled heavily in the group’s favor on Tuesday.

Just goes to prove that you can’t buy all the judges.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cruel and Unusual

I believe the word you’re looking for is “barbaric”.

An Oklahoma inmate whose execution was halted Tuesday because the delivery of a new drug combination was botched died of a heart attack, the head of the state Department of Corrections said.

Director Robert Patton said inmate Clayton Lockett died Tuesday after all three drugs were administered.

Patton halted Lockett’s execution about 20 minutes after the first drug was administered. He said there was a vein failure.

The execution began at 6:23 p.m. when officials began administering the first drug, and a doctor declared Lockett to be unconscious at 6:33 p.m.

About three minutes later, though, Lockett began breathing heavily, writhing on the gurney, clenching his teeth and straining to lift his head off the pillow. After about three minutes, a doctor lifted the sheet that was covering Lockett to examine the injection site. After that, an official who was inside the death chamber lowered the blinds, preventing those in the viewing room from seeing what was happening.

Can we stop using oxymorons such as “humane execution”?  There’s no such thing, and if we have any shred of dignity left about how we treat criminals, we’ll get rid of the death penalty and stop being included in the ranks of countries such as Iran, North Korea, and China who exact revenge instead of administer justice.

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.