Tag: First Amendment

Aug 25

LGBT Rights: The Battle For Equality Has Just Begun

In a passionate plea, John Oliver, the host of “Last Week Tonight,” explains why the need for the federal government must put an end to the discrimination that the LGBT community faces. He does it like no else could.

Apr 07

Arkansas Governor a Wily Coward

On Wednesday, the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, refused to sign the religious freedom act, mainly citing his own son’s objection to the bill but, also, wishing to avoid the chaos that a similar bill in Illinois caused.

“I ask that changes be made in the legislation, and I’ve asked that the leaders in the General Assembly recall the bill so that it can be amended,” the Republican governor said, so it more precisely mirrors the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

“In the alternative,” he said, “it can simply have some language changes so that those accommodations and changes can be made.”

Hutchinson had previously said he would sign the bill into law. [..]

In a sign of what he called the generational gap, the Republican governor said his son told him he could tell the press that he signed a petition asking him to veto the bill.

While the media, companies, like Walmart, and politicians, like Hillary Clinton praised Gov. Hutchinson for his courage, they have all overlooked one very important fact, that was pointed out by Karoli at Crooks and Liars:

Gov. Hutchinson didn’t veto the bill. He sent it back unsigned to the legislature. As per the Arkansas Constitution, the bill will become law in five days.

So they can dither for five days, the bill becomes law and Asa walks away with his hands clean blaming the state legislators for failing to “fix” the bill.

Cowardice of the first order.  

Dec 30

The NYPD Gets on My Last Nerve

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

First let me say this: Supporting the police while calling for reform and justice are not mutually exclusive. Lives matter, all of them. This is not a zero sum game. That said, some of the members of the NYC Police Department and the bigots that support the institutionalized racism of the agency have gotten on my last nerve.

The vast majority of police officers are good people, just as the vast majority of people who are protesting in the streets across this country are good people. But some of the leadership, politicians and talking heads in the mainstream media need to shut up and listen. The people of this country deserve to be heard. The heads of the police unions in NYC seem to have forgotten that they are the employees of the people of NYC. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected by 74% of those who voted in November, is their boss. He was elected to reform an increasing out of control and militarized police department. He’s doing a good job. You can tell by the squealing of the racists who can’t see beyond their own hatred of people who just want to live in peace, make a decent living and raise their children in a safe city. People should not have to fear the police.

For the last 20 years under two Republican corporate administrations, the NYPD was expanded and given unprecedented powers. The commissioners that were appointed by Mayors Rudolph Guiliani and Michael Bloomberg, that includes the current commissioner William Bratton, ran the department like it was an army and felt that they were not accountable to its citizens. The policies of “Broken Glass” and its offshoot “Stop and Frisk” were inherently racist and have led to the feeling of distrust in the minority communities of the city. It has led to the abuse and deaths of mostly young men of color and, now, two good men, NYC police officers, have been assassinated by a deranged man seeking vengeance. The union heads, especially NYC Police Benevolence Association President Patrick Lynch, decided to make the death of Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Lui a political football for their hurt feelings.

What is Lynch so fired up about? He is vilifying Mayor De Blasio because the mayor, as the parent of mixed race children, spoke the truth about what every parent of a child of color must tell them about the police:

“This is profoundly personal to me,” de Blasio said. “I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said, ‘I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens.’ And I said to him, I did.”

De Blasio went on to note that he and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who is black, “have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face.”

The mayor described his son as “a good young man, [a] law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong” — but he noted that “because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” [..]

he mayor described “that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome.”

“For so many of our young people, there’s a fear,” de Blasio said. “And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.”

It has been bad enough that since the mayor made that statement that Mr. Lynch went tirade in an attempt to make the police the victims and not the innocent people they have abused and killed. He and other members of the NYPD have only exposed their racism.

Besides the incredibly insulting act of turning their backs on Mayor de Blasio as he was leaving Woodhull Hospital after the deaths of the two officers, what got me really angry with these bigots were two incidents that showed just how completely ignorant some of the police really are. The first was this stupid and, very likely expensive stunt by an anonymous “group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, and Supervisors”

Friday morning, a small plane flew over New York City with a banner attached that read: “De Blasio, Our Backs Have Turned to You.” The sign, a reference to some NYPD officers protesting against Mayor de Blasio following the shooting deaths of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos last weekend, was the work of a “large and unified group of current and retired NYC Police Officers, Detectives, & Supervisors,” according to blogger and former cop John Cardillo. [..]

Ashley Chalmers, the owner of the plane, told the New York Daily News that the people who rented it “wish to remain anonymous,” though Cardillo said he was contacted by the NYPD group on Friday and asked to release a statement.

Stay classy, guys, exposing, not only your bigotry, but the need to learn to write a sentence.

Then while attending the funeral of Police Officer Rafael Ramos, some of the police officers decided it was the place to throw a temper tantrum insulting the memory of a fallen officer and his grieving family:

Thousands of police officers from across the nation packed a church and spilled onto streets Saturday to honor Officer Rafael Ramos as a devoted family man, aspiring chaplain and hero, though an air of unrest surrounding his ambush shooting was not completely pushed aside.

While mourners inside the church applauded politely as Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke, hundreds of officers outside turned their backs on him to protest what they see as his support for demonstrators angry over killings by police.

The rush of officers far and wide to New York for Ramos’ funeral reminded some of the bond after the Sept. 11 attacks and Superstorm Sandy. Vice President Joe Biden promised that the “incredibly diverse city can and will show the nation how to bridge any divide.”

Still, tensions were evident when officers turned away from giant screens showing de Blasio, who has been harshly criticized by New York Police Department union officials as a contributor to a climate of mistrust that preceded the killings of Ramos and his partner, Wenjian Liu.

All this poutrage by Mr. Lynch, former Mayor Guiliani and company directed at Mayor de Blasio is because he spoke to the terrible fact that police departments throughout this country treat people of color differently and minority children, especially the boys, must be given “the talk.

“If you are stopped by a cop, do what he says, even if he’s harassing you, even if you didn’t do anything wrong. Let him arrest you, memorize his badge number, and call me as soon as you get to the precinct. Keep your hands where he can see them. Do not reach for your wallet. Do not grab your phone. Do not raise your voice. Do not talk back. Do you understand me?”

The mayor gave the talk to his biracial teenage son so this wouldn’t happen to him.

And as John Cole at Balloon Juice noted

And let’s remember what is so particularly ugly about this- this is motivated as much by the desire to not reform and to maintain the current institutional racism as it is the current contract talks and union elections. Fuck Patrick Lynch and his goons.

If some members of the NYPD don’t like the reforms that Mayor de Blasio was elected to enact, they can go find other jobs. There are plenty of qualified people, who are working two and three underpaying jobs,  to replace them. Either that or learn to listen.

Dec 19

The Justice Department’s War on Freedom of the Press

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In this chapter of the Obama administration’s war on freedom of the press, the cast of character are:

Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, an former employee of the CIA, was indicted, arrested, and charged with violating the Espionage Act in 2010.

James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist for The New York Time, is the author of the book State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, which was discussed CIA operations, specifically Operation Merlin.

Mr. Risen was subpoenaed to testify at Mr. Sterling’s trial and would have been asked if Mr. Sterling was the source for the Operation Merlin. He refused and fought the subpoena through the courts. In July 2013, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Risen would have to testify. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. Mr. Risen said that he would not comply and was willing to go to jail. That was not the end of Mr. Risen’s fight to protect a confidential source.

Then in October 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder stated “no reporter’s going to jail as long as I’m attorney general.” On December 10, a federal court judge told prosecutors that they had a week to decide whether they enforce the subpoena.  On this Tuesday, it was announced that Mr. Risen would be subpoenaed to answer questions before the trial but there is some confusion about what those questions are:

Prosecutors say they will not ask James Risen if ex-CIA man Jeffrey Sterling was his anonymous source for part of the 2006 book “State Of War” that detailed a botched CIA effort to cripple Iran’s nuclear program. However, they do want to know if the two had a prior, on-the-record source relationship.

Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, said at Tuesday’s hearing that he is not sure whether his client is willing to answer the questions that prosecutors want to pose.

Furthermore, defense attorneys indicated they may also have their own questions, which puts Risen at risk of being found in contempt of court if he refuses to answer. {..}

On Tuesday, though, as prosecutors detailed what they would seek from Risen, it was unclear whether Risen would agree to the limitations. And it became equally clear that Risen may have as much to fear, if not more, from defense lawyers, who would be free to cross-examine Risen and could even seek to subpoena him themselves.

Edward MacMahon, one of Sterling’s lawyers, told Brinkema that “the notion we can sanitize this by limiting (his testimony) to two or three questions is hard for us to fathom.”

He declined comment after the hearing on whether he may seek to subpoena Risen.

Prosecutor James Trump said there is much more uncertainty about the questions Risen might face from the defense than there is about what prosecutors will seek.

Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González spoke to Marcy Wheeler, investigative blogger who runs EmptyWheel.net and writes for ExposeFacts.org.



The transcript can be read here

In Plan for Risen Subpoena, Government Raises Sixth Amendment Interests of Jeffrey Sterling

Marcy Wheeler, Expose the Facts

December 16, 2014

The government has now submitted its explanation for the limited information it will seek from James Risen in the Jeffrey Sterling trial and pre-trial hearings.

It will ask him to confirm that:

  •    He has  confidentiality agreement with his source or sources on the Merlin story (though they will not ask who those sources are)
  •    He authored the Merlin chapter of his book State of War, but also one article in which he explicitly and another the government claims he relied on Sterling as a source
  •    He worked with Sterling for one of those earlier stories in a non-confidential relationship

[..]

The last line of the filing, however, suggests ExposeFacts may have correctly predicted their plan. The government raises the possibility Risen will refuse to answer Sterling’s questions.

It’s obvious that the DOJ is behind the eight ball and is praying that the they will not be the reason Mr. Risen ends up behind bars.

Aug 21

Ferguson’s War on Freedom of the Press

Reporting the events by the news media in Ferguson, MO has become very problematic with the police limiting not only the press access to the demonstrations on the ground but the Federal Aviation Administration has created an unprecedented “no fly zone” over the town. The excuse is “to provide a safe environment for law enforcement operations.” The same reasoning was given repeatedly by Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson who has also threatened and ordered arrests of reporters.

The situation was so bad last week that on August 14 the ACLU sued the town and county and won a court order from a judge telling police that they cannot bar journalists from reporting which was promptly ignored.

Why is this happening? Of course the police excuse is that they are “protecting” the reporters and have also made the unsubstantiated accusation that the press is interfering with police operations. The real reason is they don’t want a free press to record any brutality on the part of the police in containing the demonstrators, peaceful or otherwise. Nor do they want the entrapment tactics, like blocking egress at both ends of the streets refusing to allow protestors to exit, then arresting them when they try to pass through to go home.

The bogus press conference that Capt. Johnson held in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, displaying a Molotov cocktail and other items confiscated from alleged “agitators,” was contrived to justify the use of tear gas, smoke bombs, rubber bullets and other military type weapons. It was fairly obvious from a trained observer that the way the “evidence” was handled – no gloves – and displayed – not bagged and tagged – that these were just props in the side show. Yes, capt Johnson, I call you on your preprocessed bovine waste (thank you, John Oliver).

Published on Aug 21, 2014

With 11 journalists arrested thus far, Truthout.org investigative reporter Mike Ludwig describes how Ferguson police are using intimidation tactics against journalists.



Transcript can be read here

Restricting and harassing the free press is a cover up of police criminality of the first order and it is being aided and abetted by the state government of Missouri and Federal government.  

Aug 01

Democracy Under Fire

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In a joint statement, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch released a 120 page report documenting how mass surveillance by the US is undermining constitutional rights to freedom of the press and legal council

The 120-page report, “With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy,” is based on extensive interviews with dozens of journalists, lawyers, and senior US government officials. It documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions. The report finds that government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.

Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate sat down with Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, and Jeremy Scahill, staff reporter with The Intercept to discuss the threat to Americans’ liberties.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union warn that “large-scale surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work.” The report is based on interviews with dozens of reporters and lawyers. They describe a media climate where journalists take cumbersome security steps that slows down their reporting. Sources are afraid of talking, as aggressive prosecutions scare government officials into staying silent, even about issues that are unclassified. For lawyers, the threat of surveillance is stoking fears they will be unable to protect a client’s right to privacy. Some defendants are afraid of speaking openly to their own counsel, undermining a lawyer’s ability provide the best possible defense.



Transcript can be read here

Journalism under fire: America’s freedom of the press is in danger

By Heather Digby Parton, Salon

If there’s one thing that civil libertarians across the American political spectrum tend to agree upon, it’s that the Bill of Rights is a guiding document. It doesn’t say everything but it says a lot. The various political factions do sometimes differ in their emphasis and interpretation, with the right’s civil libertarians often tending to focus more closely on the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause and the 2nd Amendment while the left-leaning civil libertarians take a harder line on freedom of speech and the 4th amendment. This is of course a sweeping generalization which can be disproved in dozens of individual cases, but for the sake of argument, it can probably be stipulated that those who concern themselves with the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution all agree on the Bill of Rights’ importance to our constitutional order.  And they tend to agree across the board, with equal fervor, on the necessity of a free press to a functioning democracy. [..]

Considering the reaction of many people in the government toward reporters involved in the NSA revelation, it’s clear they have reason to be paranoid. There are government officials awho consider them to be spies and have said they should be punished as such. Even fellow journalists have brought up the question of “aiding and abetting” as if it’s a legitimate line of inquiry.

The atmosphere of mistrust is also rampant within the government, as with the administration having cracked down on contacts between the intelligence community and issuing threats of legal action even before the Snowden revelations. The institutionalized, government-wide initiative called the Insider Threat Program could have any federal employee looking over his  shoulder and worrying that his innocent behavior might be construed as suspicious. [..]

And it’s not just national security agencies that are subject to this program. They are in effect in departments as disparate as the Department of Education and the Peace Corps.

Top Journalists and Lawyers: NSA Surveillance Threatens Press Freedom and Right to Counsel

By Dan Froomkin, The Intercept

Not even the strongest versions of NSA reform being considered in Congress come anywhere close to addressing the chilling effects on basic freedoms that the new survey describes.

“If the US fails to address these concerns promptly and effectively,” report author  G. Alex Sinha writes, “it could do serious, long-term damage to the fabric of democracy in the country.”

Even before the Snowden revelations, reporters trying to cover important defense, intelligence and counter-terrorism issues were reeling from the effects of unprecedented secrecy and attacks on whistleblowers.

But newfound awareness of the numerous ways the government can follow electronic trails –  previously considered the stuff of paranoid fantasy – has led sources to grow considerably more fearful.

Jul 16

The 5 Male Catholic Justices Declare War on Women

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In 1960, the country was set to elect its first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. Many conservative protestants in Southern states were wary of JFK’s faith and ties to the Vatican, questioning whether as president he would be able to make important national decisions independent of his faith and Vatican influence. In September of 1960, he gave an historic speech in Houston, Texas before a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion, declaring, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.

Now, fifty-four years after that speech, there is a predominance of Catholics on the Supreme Court, mostly men and mostly very conservative. The five conservative male Catholics are voting in lock step to restrict the use of birth control, a necessary part of women’s health care, and income equality by siding with ant-union groups to limit union representation for some health care workers who are mostly low income women and minorities.

After Hobby Lobby

by Dahlia Lithwick, Slate

The Supreme Court term wrapped up nice and neat last week. Unless you are a woman.

For the first time in my memory as a reporter, there was a men’s term and a women’s term at the U.S. Supreme Court. The men’s term ended last Monday, with a pair of split decisions in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn, and a lot of mumbling on both sides of the political spectrum about the fact that-as Supreme Court terms go-this was a fairly uncontroversial one, marked by high degrees of agreement and consensus-seeking by the justices, and minimalist, incremental changes where there might have been tectonic shifts.

Not so, for women, who-almost a week later-are still reeling over the implications of the Hobby Lobby decision for contraceptive care in America; still parsing the emergency injunction granted in the Wheaton College case only three days after the Hobby Lobby ruling came down; still mulling whether the Hobby Lobby decision may prove a boon for women in the long run; and generally trying to understand how a term that was characterized as minimalist and undramatic by many male commenters, even liberal male commenters, represented a tectonic shift not just for America’s women, but for the three women who actually sit up there and do their jobs at the high court. [..]

It almost doesn’t warrant explaining yet again why the term was such a disaster for women’s rights and freedoms. One need look no further than the trifecta of the abortion buffer-zone case, McCullen v. Coakley; Burwell v. Hobby Lobby; and Harris v. Quinn, which determined that for purposes of the “agency fees” rule, home health care workers – 90 percent of whom are women v] and [minorities – are not really public employees, because the home is not really a workplace. And the fact that the female justices dissented from two of the above cases in the strongest terms is rather remarkable. But looking at the three cases together, it’s difficult not to notice something almost more remarkable: In the majority opinions in all three, there is scant attention paid to real women, their daily lives, or their interests, and great mountainous wads of attention paid elsewhere. It’s almost as if the court chose not to see women this term, or at least not real women, with real challenges, and opted instead to offer extra protections to the delicate women of their imaginary worlds. [..]

All this would be difficult enough, were it not for the fact that the five-justice majority at the court seems determined to offer all this help and chivalry in the face of the strenuous objections of their female colleagues who seem, at the close of this term, to have spent a good deal of energy howling into the wind that women need less delicate handling and more basic freedoms. The final irony is that the quality of “empathy”-the much maligned, squishy solicitude that is so often associated with female justices-is the quality that seemingly drove each of the decisions above. It wasn’t so much a clash of rigorous constitutional values that determined the outcomes in Harris, McCullen, and Hobby Lobby. It was simply a strong identification by the majority justices with the values that were arrayed in opposition to women’s freedoms and economic equality: the poor home-care worker, forced to support the speech of a union; the beleaguered sidewalk counselor denied the opportunity to counsel and persuade; the sympathetic religious employer, forced to pay for something his religion cannot tolerate. Nobody disputes that in each case those values are heartfelt and compelling. But the almost complete erasure of the values on the other side is a constitutional hat trick if ever there was one. It’s bad enough that the term ended so poorly for women. That it happened because of an abundance of empathy-the quality that allegedly makes us women bad judges and justices-is kind of the icing on the cake.

The Supreme Court Has a Favorite Religion, and That’s a Big Problem

by Charles Pierce, Esquire’s Politics Blog

Jesus H. Christ on a three-month bender, if they’d just let Al Smith use his peyote the way he believed his supreme being meant it to be used, we all might have been spared this trainwreck.

Back in the early 1990’s, Smith and another man were denied unemployment benefits by the state of Oregon because they had tested positive for the active ingredient in peyote, which has been a sacrament in various Native American religions since before bread and wine became sacramental in Christianity. Smith pursued his case all the way up to the Nine Wise Souls then sitting on the Most High Bench, who ruled against him. Not yet short-timing his day job, Justice Antonin Scalia who, of a Sunday, takes bread and wine instead of peyote as part of his own religious rituals, wrote the majority opinion in the case, [..]

Almost everyone from the religious right to the ACLU popped their corks over this and, in purported response, the Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. (And yes, you are still entitled to ask, “Restoration? Where’s it been?”) Bill Clinton, just beginning to triangulate himself toward re-election, signed the thing. Since then, a gradual slippage regarding that act has been quietly underway. The RFRA is no longer about peyote. It has become a Trojan Horse, sliding the country toward a de facto kind of established religion, which today’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby makes eminently clear. Religious freedom exists in the realm of medicine only to those religions that the Court finds acceptable-and, I would argue, only to those religions to which the members of the Court belong.  Much will be written, and rightly so, about the boneheaded social subtext of the following nut paragraph in the 5-4 decision read today by Justice Samuel Alito. It is so obviously discriminatory toward ladies and their ladyparts that no explanation seems necessary.

Charlie up dated that article because of objection by some about his Papist take on Justice Alito’s majority opinion:

UPDATE — If you’re thinking that I’m hitting the whole Papist thing too hard, look at these two passages from different documents:

The belief… implicates a difficult and im-portant question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is immoral for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facili-tating the commission of an immoral act by another.

And…

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it.

The first is from Alito’s opinion today.

The second is a section of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical from Pope Paul VI that restated the Church’s opposition to artificial birth control and pretty much blew up the Vatican’s teaching authority among a great percentage of the Catholic laity in the United States. I would guess that the percentage in question does not include Samuel Alito.

This begs to question: is this Supreme Court out of Control?

Supreme Court’s out-of-control spiral: Ideologues rewriting their own laws

by David Dayen, Salon

It may be incremental, but make no mistake: This court is using absurd eccentricities to legislate from the bench

John Boehner wants to sue the president for pursuing executive authority without congressional input? He may want to file a copycat suit against the Supreme Court, who have executed plenty of extra-legislative rule making of their own.

On Monday, the court established multiple new distinctions in the law, inventing them largely to satisfy ideological whims. If any branch of government is engaging in de facto legislating and overstepping the bounds of authority, it’s the Roberts court.

As you probably know, the court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that closely held corporations, where the top five shareholders control more than 50 percent of the company, must be given an accommodation for providing birth control in their employer-based insurance coverage, if they say it violates their religious beliefs. The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, explicitly argues companies like Hobby Lobby could be granted the same accommodation as churches and religious nonprofits, where the government effectively provides direct access to contraception coverage. (I didn’t know the court’s majority exhibited such [strident support for single-payer v] healthcare!)

But the ruling also makes a number of novel assumptions. First of all, Alito found that, for the purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, corporations are not just people, but people with religious beliefs, granting them the right to free exercise of that religion, which the contraception mandate “substantially burdens.” But Alito clearly worried about a slippery slope, where suddenly religious corporations would ignore all sorts of laws by invoking their conscience. So he drew a completely arbitrary line. [..]

This has become a familiar pattern for the Roberts court, using an initial ruling to indicate eventual overturning of precedent, and then employing a subsequent case to finish the job. It perhaps makes the court look more moderate and judicious, treading ground carefully to reach their desired end state. But since there’s no real distinction under the law between the initial “signal flare” ruling and the second, deeper one, it amounts to making up the rules as it suits the conservative majority, either for public relations purposes or to better carry out their agenda.

And that’s the real point. The Roberts court has a history, as shown in these recent cases, of basically legislating from the bench, of making idiosyncratic, agenda-driven choices about which parts of laws to uphold and which to strike down.

Linda Greenhouse, a New York Times columnist and Dahlia Lithwick spoke with Bill Moyers about the latest decisions>



Transcript can be read here

The latest session of the US Supreme Court was especially contentious, with important decisions on the separation of church and state, organized labor, campaign finance reform, birth control and women’s health, among others, splitting the court along its 5-4 conservative-liberal divide.

On the other hand, nearly two-thirds of the court’s decisions this term were unanimous – the first time that’s happened in more than 60 years. But there’s more to that seeming unanimity than meets the eye: in some instances, conservative justices went along but expressed their wish that the court had gone even further to the right, and many believe that some of the decisions might simply be a preliminary step toward a more significant breaking of legal precedent in years to come.

One more word on this court and future vacancies, there are those on the so-called left who will say we must vote for Democrats because of, omg, “It’s the Supreme Court.” Yet, Democrats failed to filibuster their nominations and, while only four Democrats voted for Alito, 22 voted for Roberts, Scalia was unanimous (98 – 0) (pdf), as was Kennedy (97 – 0) and 10 voted for Clarence Thomas. Even if the Democrats manage to hold onto their Senate majority, so far the Republicans have successfully used the filibuster to stop the body from dong its job. Unless, the Democrats are willing to ditch filibuster of SCOTUS nominees, I don’t see any Democratic president getting a nominee on the court that is as left as Ginsburg or Breyer

Jul 01

SCOTUS Sides with Corporations in Last Two Rulings

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Considering it has sided with corporations in so many of its rulings over the last few years, the out come of the last two rulings by the US Supreme Court for this session were predictable down to the vote.

As in its decision in Citizens United, in a five to four vote, the court rules that just like people, corporations, too, have religious beliefs.

Supreme Court Rejects Contraceptives Mandate for Some Corporationsby Adam Liptak, New York Times

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.

The 5-to-4 decision, which applied to two companies owned by Christian families, opened the door to challenges from other corporations to many laws that may be said to violate their religious liberty.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the court’s five more conservative justices, said a federal religious-freedom law applied to for-profit corporations controlled by religious families. He added that the requirement that the companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on the companies’ religious liberty. He said the government could provide the coverage in other ways.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court’s four-member liberal wing, said the contraception coverage requirement was vital to women’s health and reproductive freedom. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined almost all of the dissent, but they said there was no need to take a position on whether corporations may bring claims under the religious liberty law.

In an Illinois case with another 5 – 4 ruling, the justices ruled that in-home healthcare workers who are paid by the state cannot be compelled to pay union dues.

Supreme Court Ruling Allows Some Public Workers to Opt Out of Union Fees by Steven Greenhouse, New York Times

The Supreme Court ruled narrowly on Monday that some government employees did not have to pay any fees to labor unions representing them, but the court decision declined to strike down a decades-old precedent that required many public-sector workers to pay union fees.

Writing the majority 5-4 opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. concluded that there was a category of government employee – a partial public employee – who can opt out of joining a union and not be required to contribute dues to that labor group.

Justice Alito wrote that home-care aides who are typically employed by an ill or disabled person with Medicaid’s paying their wages would be classified as partial public employees, which would not be the same as public-school teachers or police officers who work directly for the government.

Because states often set wages for partial public employees like home-care aides and because unions often do not conduct collective bargaining for them, these aides cannot be required to pay union fees, Justice Alito wrote. He wrote that requiring these home-care aides to pay would be a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Burwell v Hobby Lobby can be read here and Harris Et Al. v. Quinn, Governor of Illinois, Et Al can be read here

Apr 03

The War on the First Amendment Has Gone Global

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The war on media was inspired by America and encouraged by Barack Obama. Obama rocks. Not

Egypt’s al-Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

   From a War on Terror to a war on leaks, now comes America’s shadow influence on a media crackdown

   Ten years ago, the United States also justified its detention of al-Jazeera journalists by claiming a “national security threat”. These arrests could not be cloaked as mere collateral damage in a messy war. The US, then as Egypt does now, made leaping connections between the news network and militants, and specifically targeted those whose coverage did not serve the military’s objectives: Dick Cheney warned that al-Jazeera risked being “labeled as ‘Osama’s outlet to the world‘”; Donald Rumsfeld called the network’s coverage of the Iraq war “vicious, inaccurate, inexcusable”.

   Over the next several years, US forces arrested and detained al-Jazeera journalists like Sami al Hajj and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim al Ejaili. US military forces captured both in separate instances while they were doing their jobs, and tortured them while attempting to establish ties between al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. Neither al Hajj nor al Ejaili received justice for their wrongful detention. After seven years of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, the US government released al Hajj to Sudanese authorities, without any reparations. Meanwhile al Ejaili, who was detained at Abu Ghraib, brought a case with other victims against the private military contractor at the prison, alleging it conspired to commit torture and war crimes. But the case was dismissed by the district court. The court perversely ordered al Ejaili and other plaintiffs to pay their alleged torturers for the cost of the suit. The case is pending on appeal.

   The reverberations of this misguided War on Terror continue, even if the war has shifted: the Obama administration has famously invoked the Espionage Act more than any other American president, attempting to control press leaks with tactics a report found to be “the most aggressive … since the Nixon administration“.

Feb 14

The Free Press is Dying in the US

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The group that monitors attacks on freedom of information worldwide, Reporters Without Borders, released in 2014 Free Press Index which rates the decline of the free press in countries around the world. Not unsurprisingly, the United States dropped 13 spots from last year, now ranking just 46th among 180 countries, between Romania and Haiti. RWB lays that blame at the feet of President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder:

In the United States (46th, -13), the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power.

The group is calling on the United Nations to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters. See the World Press Freedom Index and the 3-dimensional map “freedom of the press worldwide”

The Obama administration also came under attack by the Committee to Protect Journalists for aggressive leak prosecutions, secret subpoenas, surveillance and its marked lack of transparency and access:

Press freedom in the United States dramatically deteriorated in 2013, a special report by CPJ found.

The Obama administration’s policy of prosecuting officials who leak classified information to the press intensified with the sentencing of Chelsea Manning (then known as Pvt. Bradley Manning) to 35 years in prison and the indictment of NSA consultant Edward Snowden.

As part of its investigations into earlier leaks, the Justice Department revealed it had secretly subpoenaed the phone records of nearly two dozen Associated Press telephone lines and the emails and phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The two cases, and language in the Rosen subpoena that suggested the journalist could be criminally charged for receiving the information, provoked widespread criticism. The backlash resulted in the drafting of revised Justice Department guidelines on press subpoenas and a renewed debate in the Senate of a federal shield law that would allow journalists greater protection for their sources.

As the debate moved forward in the Senate, a federal appeals court rejected an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen in his long-term effort to protect a confidential source, setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown.

Snowden’s leak of a still unknown quantity of classified information on secret surveillance programs spurred both a national and international outcry and, after a report that Al-Jazeera’s communications had allegedly been spied on, caused journalists to fear even more for their sources. The secrecy surrounding the surveillance programs echoed a pervasive lack of transparency and openness across government agencies where, despite President Barack Obama’s promise to head the most open government in history, officials routinely refused to talk to the press or approve Freedom of Information Act requests.

Journalists faced limitations covering national security-related trials, in cases of alleged terrorism at Guantánamo Bay and in the court-martial of Manning in Virginia.

Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders, joined [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh to discuss the decline of the free press and the safety of journalists.

Aug 21

Journalist Are Not Terrorists

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In her opening segment on her show, Rachel Maddow took the US and Great Britain to task for harassing journalists like Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda.

Apparently, when Rachel went on the air she was not aware of this latest development.

UK Authorities Destroy Guardian’s Hard Drives, Force Journalists to Report NSA Stories In Exile

by Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press Foundation

Fresh off the news that UK authorities detained the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for nine hours yesterday, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has published [an extraordinary report http://www.theguardian.com/com… of government pressure and intimidation that should send chills down the spine of anyone who cares about a free press.

Rusbridger, who up until recently was based in the UK, recounts being approached by UK government officials multiple times and threatened with legal action unless he returned or destroyed the Edward Snowden documents the Guardian had in its possession. Officials from GCHQ, Britain’s NSA counterpart, eventually entered Guardian headquarters and destroyed the hard drives that contained copies of the Snowden documents.

David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face

by Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian

As the events in a Heathrow transit lounge – and the Guardian offices – have shown, the threat to journalism is real and growing

During one of these meetings I asked directly whether the government would move to close down the Guardian’s reporting through a legal route – by going to court to force the surrender of the material on which we were working. The official confirmed that, in the absence of handover or destruction, this was indeed the government’s intention. Prior restraint, near impossible in the US, was now explicitly and imminently on the table in the UK. But my experience over WikiLeaks – the thumb drive and the first amendment – had already prepared me for this moment. I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

The man was unmoved. And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.

Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.

The state that is building such a formidable apparatus of surveillance will do its best to prevent journalists from reporting on it. Most journalists can see that. But I wonder how many have truly understood the absolute threat to journalism implicit in the idea of total surveillance, when or if it comes – and, increasingly, it looks like “when”.

I wonder if the White House was given a “head’s up” on this action.  

Aug 20

The Forest and the Trees

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In another assault on the freedom of the press and a naked attempt at intimidation, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner, David Miranda was detained at Heathrow Airport and questioned for nine hours under Great Britain’s Terrorism Act:

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours (pdf).

Miranda was released, but officials confiscated electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. [..]

While in Berlin, Miranda had visited Laura Poitras, the US film-maker who has also been working on the Snowden files with Greenwald and the Guardian. The Guardian paid for Miranda’s flights.

This was the reaction of Widney Brown, Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy:

“It is utterly improbable that David Michael Miranda, a Brazilian national transiting through London, was detained at random, given the role his partner has played in revealing the truth about the unlawful nature of NSA surveillance.

“David’s detention was unlawful and inexcusable. He was detained under a law that violates any principle of fairness and his detention shows how the law can be abused for petty, vindictive reasons.

“There is simply no basis for believing that David Michael Miranda presents any threat whatsoever to the UK government. The only possible intent behind this detention was to harass him and his partner, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, for his role in analysing the data released by Edward Snowden.”

Of course the White House denies ordering the detention or the confiscation of Mr. Miranda’s property, but considering the lies that have been told and the use of “national security” as a reason to cover up the lies and crimes of two administrations, there is certainly good reason to question the veracity of any statements from the White House. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest admitted that the White House was notified in advance of the action.

The detention has caused some outrage in Britain with  condemnation and calls for an explanation from the police of why Mr. Miranda was held under the anti-terroism law since there was no little evidence that he was involved in, or connected to terrorism.

Keith Vaz (chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee) called the detention of Miranda “extraordinary” and said he would be writing immediately to police to request information about why Miranda was held under anti-terrorism laws when there appeared to be little evidence that he was involved in terrorism. [..]

“It is an extraordinary twist to a very complicated story,” Vaz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. “Of course it is right that the police and security services should question people if they have concerns or the basis of any concerns about what they are doing in the United Kingdom. What needs to happen pretty rapidly is we need to establish the full facts – now you have a complaint from Mr Greenwald and the Brazilian government. They indeed have said they are concerned at the use of terrorism legislation for something that does not appear to relate to terrorism, so it needs to be clarified, and clarified quickly.”

Vaz said he was not aware that personal property could be confiscated under the laws. “What is extraordinary is they knew he was the partner [of Greenwald] and therefore it is clear not only people who are directly involved are being sought but also the partners of those involved,” he said. “Bearing in mind it is a new use of terrorism legislation to detain someone in these circumstances […] I’m certainly interested in knowing, so I will write to the police to ask for the justification of the use of terrorism legislation – they may have a perfectly reasonable explanation. But if we are going to use the act in this way … then at least we need to know so everyone is prepared.”

The British anti-terrorist legislation watchdog, David Anderson QC, also called for an explanation from called on the Home Office and Metropolitan police over what is being called a “gross misuse” of the terror law.:

The intervention by Anderson came as the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, called for an urgent investigation into the use of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to detain Miranda. Cooper said ministers must find out whether anti-terror laws had been misused after detention caused “considerable consternation”.

Cooper said public support for schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act could be undermined if there was a perception it was not being used for the right purposes. “Any suggestion that terror powers are being misused must be investigated and clarified urgently,” she said. “The public support for these powers must not be endangered by a perception of misuse.

Laura Poitras, with whom Mr. Miranda was visiting in Berlin and whose work usually involves sensitive national security issues, had recently relocated to Berlin, Germany because of the harassment at US airports.

Glenn Greenwald called the detention of his partner a failed attempt at intimidation:

This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by. But the UK puppets and their owners in the US national security state obviously are unconstrained by even those minimal scruples.

If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further. Beyond that, every time the US and UK governments show their true character to the world – when they prevent the Bolivian President’s plane from flying safely home, when they threaten journalists with prosecution, when they engage in behavior like what they did today – all they do is helpfully underscore why it’s so dangerous to allow them to exercise vast, unchecked spying power in the dark.

The press and the supporters of police state tactic of the US and Britain focused on the individuals involved completely miss the heart of this matter, the world wide freedom of the press, the free flow of information and the rights of people’s property and privacy. They are missing the forest for the trees.

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