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“Unfair And Partial”: Federal Judge Edith H. Jones Says Minorities Are Predisposed To Crime

Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is facing serious allegations this week after controversial remarks the jurist made at Federalist Society in February. According to the conservative group, there is no transcript of recording of Jones’ speech, but affidavits from attendees point to deeply problematic language from anyone, least of all a sitting federal judge.

According to the [ethics] complaint, Judge Jones, 64, who was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan, and who until recently was the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit and mentioned during Republican administrations as a possible Supreme Court nominee, said that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.”

One of the affidavits accompanying the complaint is from Marc Bookman, a veteran death penalty lawyer in Pennsylvania, who attended the lecture. He quoted Judge Jones as saying, “Sadly, some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than others.” When asked to elaborate, Judge Jones “noted there was no arguing that ‘blacks’ and ‘Hispanics’ far outnumber ‘Anglos’ on death row and repeated that ‘sadly’ people from these racial groups do get involved in more violent crime,” the affidavit said.

A variety of civil rights organizations and legal ethicists this week filed a complaint of misconduct. An affidavit from James McCormack, the former chief disciplinary counsel for the Texas bar, added that he believes Jones “violated the ethical standards applicable to federal judges under the Code of Conduct for United States judges.”

Making matters slightly worse, this wasn’t the only offensive comment Jones made at the event.

Judge Jones is alleged to have said that the defenses often offered in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, were “red herrings.” She also said, according to the witnesses, that Mexicans would prefer to be on death row in the United States rather than in prison in Mexico.

It would appear that defendants have reason to question whether Jones is a fair and impartial arbiter of justice. Indeed, if I were a criminal defense attorney, and my client’s conviction rested in part on a ruling from Jones, I’d probably have new grounds for an appeal.

The matter will reportedly be reviewed by the 5th circuit’s chief judge. It’s a controversy worth watching.

Postscript: When Jones was on a very short list of jurists then-President George W. Bush was considering for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005, the Washington Post published this brief profile, noting, “Known as a strong and outspoken conservative, she has written opinions that called into question the reasoning behind the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, has been an advocate for speeding up death penalty executions, and is a vocal proponent of ‘moral values.’ She also wrote a 1997 opinion throwing out a federal ban on the possession of machine guns and has been an advocate for toughening bankruptcy laws.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Federal Courts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Special Hide The Money Designations”: The IRS Should Outlaw All Social Welfare Political Fronts

If you’re covered in political stink, it might be prudent to avoid yelling “dirty politics” at others.

Lately, a mess of right-wing Tea Party groups have been wailing nonstop that they have been targeted, harassed and denied their civic rights by partisan, out-of-control, Obamanistic IRS thugs (no adjective too extreme when assailing Obama or the IRS). The groups certainly are right that it’s abhorrent for a powerful agency to run a repressive witch-hunt against any group of citizens just because of their political views. After all, liberals have frequently felt the lash of such official repression by assorted McCarthyite-Nixonite-Cheneyite forces over the years, and it must be condemned, no matter who the victims.

In this case, however, the right-wing groups were not targeted by government snoops and political operatives, but tagged by their own applications to be designated by the IRS as 501(c)(4) “social welfare” groups. This privileged status would allow them to take unlimited bags of corporate cash without ever revealing to voters the names of the corporations putting up the money. The caveat is that 501(c)(4)s are supposed to do actual social welfare work and cannot be attached to any candidate or party, nor can politics be their primary purpose.

Forget what the rule says, though. Such notorious political players as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers have cynically set up their own pretend-welfare groups, openly using them as fronts to run secret-money election campaigns. Suddenly, hundreds of wannabe outfits were demanding that they be given the special hide-the-money designation, too, brazenly lying about their overt political purpose. Some even asserted that they were engaged in no political activity, when their own websites bragged that they were.

It was these groups’ stupidity and audacity that prompted the IRS inquiries, and their current hissy fit about the agency is really just a PR effort to let them continue their “social welfare” fraud.

I think of a “social welfare charity” as being an altruistic enterprise, like The Little Sisters of the Poor — not the avaricious Little Koch Brothers of the Plutocracy.

Yet the brothers have created their very own 501(c)(4) charity, which they used last year as a political front group for funneling $39 million into campaigns against Democrats. Interesting, since, the law bans these tax-exempt entities from spending more than 49 percent of their funding on political efforts to promote their “issues.”

Yet, there they are — hordes of political (c)(4)s, mostly right-wing, operating primarily as political pipelines for secretly gushing corporate money into raw, partisan campaigns. Their hocus-pocus lawyers and congressional consiglieres have badgered the IRS into handing them the (c)(4) get-out-of-jail-free card, then defied the agency to stop them as they dump millions of corrupt dollars into our elections.

For example, American Action Network, a “charity” created by Wall Street lobbyists, has spent two-thirds of its revenue on elections, including putting up $745,000 from secret donors to elect Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. How ironic, then, that Johnson is now one of the Tea Party mad dogs howling at IRS officials.

It’s scandalous, Johnson shrieks, that some Tea Party groups have not been given (c)(4) status, because IRS agents have had the temerity to question whether the groups actually are charitable enterprises — or just rank political outfits fraudulently posing as charities.

While Tea Party groups should not be singled out for IRS scrutiny, neither should they be allowed to cheat in elections by shamefully masquerading as Little Sisters of the Poor. That’s the real IRS scandal.


By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 5, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Culture Of GOP Obstruction”: When Basic Governance Is Deemed Controversial

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, widely seen as the nation’s second most important federal bench, has three vacancies. President Obama yesterday introduced three non-controversial nominees to fill those vacancies. And were it not for the breakdowns of the American political process, none of this would be especially interesting.

But here we are.

Senate Republicans have come up with lots of reasons for not wanting to advance President Barack Obama’s nominees to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, whether it be false accusations of “court-packing” or claims that the court doesn’t need its three vacancies filled because it’s not busy enough.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) argued there was another problem with moving Obama’s nominees: a “culture of intimidation” being fueled by Democrats.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) went further, responding to the nominees by telling reporters, “There is no basis for the president inventing these crises. It’s unpresidential. It’s embarrassing to me.”

Just so we’re clear, we’ve apparently reached the point at which a president nominating judges to fill existing vacancies is seen by Republicans as outrageous. They not only decry “court packing” — a phrase they use but clearly do not understand — they also feel “intimidated” and “embarrassed” by a basic governmental process outlined by the Constitution.

Indeed, according to Lamar Alexander, Obama is creating a “crisis.” Worse, it’s “unpresidential” for the president to exercise his presidential duties. I realize it’s a little unusual for the White House to introduce three judicial nominees at once, but this GOP freak-out is excessive by any sensible standard.

But, Mitch McConnell says, there’s no reason for Democrats to complain. “You know, we’ve confirmed an overwhelming number of judges for President Obama,” the Minority Leader told reporters yesterday. “So the president’s been treated very fairly on judicial [nominees].”

Is this true?

Greg Sargent took a closer look.

It is not easy to conclusively determine whether GOP obstructionism is unprecedented. But there are some data points we can look at. For instance, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who focuses on judicial nominations, has developed what he calls an “Index of Obstruction and Delay” designed to measure levels of obstructionism. In research that will be released in a July article he co-authored for Judicature Journal, he has calculated that the level of obstruction of Obama circuit court nominees during the last Congress was unprecedented.

Goldman calculates his Index of Obstruction and Delay by adding together the number of unconfirmed nominations, plus the number of nominations that took more than 180 days to confirm (not including nominations towards the end of a given Congress) and dividing that by the total number of nominations. During the last Congress, Goldman calculates, the Index of Obstruction and Delay for Obama circuit court nominations was 0.9524.

Goldman told Greg, “That’s the highest that’s ever been recorded.” He added, in reference to the most recent Congress, “[I]t is unprecedented for the minority party to obstruct and delay to the level that Republicans have done to Obama in the 112th Congress.”

The Congressional Research Service also found (pdf), “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year (i.e., more than 182 days).”

It appears that by objective standards, McConnell’s boasts have no basis in fact. Imagine that.

Nevertheless, the Minority Leader yesterday refused to commit to allowing the Senate to vote up or down on the new nominees, not because he can think of something wrong with them, but because he thinks the D.C. Circuit isn’t busy enough to need filled vacancies.

With each passing day, the “nuclear option” becomes more viable.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 5, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Federal Courts, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A No Non-Sense FLOTUS”: We Are Not Used To Seeing A First Lady Stand Up For Herself

If my husband were president, I think I’d have to be exiled to the Kingdom of Bhutan for the duration of his tenure, because there is no way would I have the self-discipline of Michelle Obama.

It took the First Lady five years to verbally take down a heckler. I’d be in a wrestling match by month two of the primaries. I can just feel it.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Obama was 12 minutes into her speech at a Democratic fundraiser when Ellen Sturtz yelled for the president to “issue an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Great cause. Lousy timing.

For one thing, the president wasn’t giving the speech. He wasn’t even in the room. As the wife of a U.S. senator, I am familiar with this brand of lobbying. Some constituents will always see me as a convenient shortcut to the target of their ire. Multiply that number by the population of 50 states and the U.S. territories, and you have an idea of what it’s like to be Michelle Obama with the unpaid job of First Lady.

When Sturtz yelled, Mrs. Obama stepped away from the lectern, walked toward her and shut her down.

“Wait, wait, wait. One of things I don’t do, that I don’t do well, is this,” she said, to uproarious approval from those in attendance. (An audio of the moment:

“Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.”

Mrs. Obama knew her audience. The donors had paid as much as $10,000 to be there, and they had no patience for Sturtz’s plea for “federal equality before I die,” which is what she yelled as some of the attendees escorted her out.

There’s a sadness to this. Most of the 200 or so donors there likely support Sturtz’s cause, as they should. Congress continues to stall the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and LGBT groups are disappointed that the president hasn’t issued an executive order to fix it. This matters.

But there’s a time and a place, as mothers everywhere say to their children. I wish Mrs. Obama had acknowledged the importance of employment equality for the LGBT community, but I also understand how a person’s screaming at you in front of 200 people can kill the mood.

So, Mrs. Obama finished her speech and launched yet another national debate over who she should and shouldn’t be as America’s First Lady. My, how we love to dissect the intentions of this strong, talented woman.

Some reactions surprised me. Conservative John Podhoretz of “Commentary” tweeted: “Good for Michelle Obama. … Self-righteous, morally preening protestors need to have it stuffed back in their faces.” New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, a longtime champion for women around the globe, tweeted: “I like the First Lady, but her confrontation with this heckler was not her finest moment.”

The Root’s Keli Goff echoed many of Mrs. Obama’s defenders in pointing out that she “does not sign executive orders or sign laws. That’s her husband’s job, which makes Sturtz’s behavior seem all the more silly and misdirected.”

While it’s true that Mrs. Obama is not the president, her marriage and her address — as well as her considerable talents — make her one of the most powerful women in this country. She is a public figure, not a private citizen, and she is not immune from an impolite public. Nor should she be. As she proved this week, she is more than capable of asserting herself.

Great for Michelle Obama. Great for the rest of us, too. May her candor be contagious.

We are not used to seeing a First Lady stand up for herself, and I hope we get more chances to get used to it. Her husband’s presidency thrust her into the limelight, but she is more than her marriage. We’ve celebrated her sense of fun and fashion and her commitment to her family, but there is a no-nonsense side to her that is just right in this time of political stalemate and rampant incivility.

For eight years, millions of American women have been trying to emulate Michelle Obama’s spectacularly toned biceps.

This week, she showed off a new set of muscles.

More, please.


By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, June 6, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Wink, Wink”: House GOP Committee Ignores The Tea Party’s Non-Exempt Political Shenanigans

When a gaggle of local Tea Party leaders came before the House Ways and Means Committee, complaining that their organizations had been unfairly and unconstitutionally “targeted by the Internal Revenue Service for their personal beliefs,” the reception by the Republicans who control the committee was predictably credulous. Once more the June 4 hearings provided Tea Party groups an opportunity to play the victim and listen to politicians praise their courage and patriotism.

But a closer examination of these particular Tea Party outfits by the  Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights found copious evidence of political activity that might well have disqualified their requests for 501(c)(4) non-profit status – notably the San Fernando Valley Patriots, the Wetumpka Tea Party, and the Laurens County Tea Party.

In weepy tones, Karen Kenney, the founder of the San Fernando Valley Patriots (SFVP), told the committee of her concern “about the jackboot of tyranny upon the field of our Founding documents. To whisper the letters I-R-S strikes a shrill note on Main St., USA, but when this behemoth tramples upon America’s grassroots, few hear the snapping sounds.”

Kenney’s emotional testimony was long on the language of patriotism, but short on the facts of the case. Her testimony, like the entire hearing, ignored the dubious political conduct engaged in by her group, which appeared to have trampled all over IRS non-profit regulations.

Consider the group’s Meetup site, run by Kenney, which bluntly states: “Our aim is to promote — by political action or events – the core Constitutional and conservative values that built America [emphasis added].”

Indeed, Kenney and the San Fernando Valley Patriots actively engaged in partisan political campaigning. This year, they organized rallies for the only Republican in the Los Angeles mayoral race.  Listed as the organizer and event host, Kenney wrote, “We have a total of 15 campaign or city issues posters, plus some U.S. flags to draw attention to Kevin James’ campaign for Mayor of Los Angeles. Our silent ‘rally’ with smiling patriots is a fun way to get boots on the ground for a true fiscal-conservative and our friend, Kevin.”

The San Fernando group also appears to have openly endorsed other candidates. Its website published a list of endorsed candidates and ballot measures for the Los Angeles County election. The post clearly states that the list names the candidates that “we are recommending.” In another post, the group tried to pass the endorsement list off as a “Voter Guide,” but it only contains a list of candidates the group had approved. On another page, Kenney posts her own “SFVP Selected Personal Choices (Karen Kenney, coordinator, SFV Patriots)” for the election, listing the candidates she endorsed for mayor, city attorney, and board of trustees.

Still another SFVP webpage features a declaration by Lydia Gutierrez: “I have looked over the list of candidates and I am making the following recommendations. Seat 2: John C. Burke. Seat 4: Jozef Essavi. Seat 6: Tom Oliver.  After you have marked these three candidates on your ballot, please forward these recommendations email with 10 voters you know who care about our young people’s future.”

Nor did the SFVP neglect national and statewide political contests. In October, 2012, the group organized a get-out-the-vote flash mob in front of the local headquarters for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and GOP state senate candidate Todd Zink. The group also hosted a brainstorming session in October, 2011 “on local and state politics with a GOP insider!”

SFVP is an affiliate of the national faction known as the Tea Party Patriots, an outfit with its own history of questionable political involvement.

Such activities clearly represent the “indications of significant political campaign intervention” highlighted by the May 14 report of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration  – namely, indications that would tend to disqualify a group from obtaining IRS non-profit status. Yet none of these activities were discussed during the hearing supposedly investigating the tax-exemption controversy.

Becky Gerritson of the Alabama-based Wetumpka Tea Party did her best to heighten the melodrama of the hearings. Gerritson emphasized her Tea Party entitlement, making a federal tax exemption sound like a birthright for her and her group. “I am not here today as a serf or a vassal. I am not begging my lords for mercy,” she told the committee. “I am a born-free American woman – wife, mother and citizen – and I’m telling my government that you have forgotten your place.”

But the Wetumpka Tea Party’s political activism was well-documented prior to the hearing, notably in a New York Times article by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo.  Confessore and Luo reported that the Wetumpka Tea Party “organized a day of training for its members and other Tea Party activists across the region in the run-up to the 2012 election. The training was held under the auspices of the Adopt-a-State program, a nationwide effort that encouraged Tea Party groups in safely red or blue states to support Tea Party groups in battleground states working to get out the vote for Republicans.” Yet nobody on the House committee asked  Gerritson about the political activities of her group.

Dianne Belsom, president of the South Carolina-based Laurens County Tea Party, testified about some of the questions posed to her group by the IRS concerning their request for tax exempt status. Of the nine questions she mentioned, all indicated that the agency’s officials were trying to determine how deeply her group had engaged in significant political interventions. She was asked to describe “how much time/resources are devoted to vetting candidates,” and to specify “amounts expended in support of any candidate for federal, state, or local public office.” Other supposedly “invasive” items requested by the IRS included asking for the group’s articles of incorporation.

Even a cursory examination of the Laurens County group’s website shows plenty of reason for the IRS to have become concerned.  The website notes proudly that in July, 2012, Belsom “spoke and outlined our strategy for the remainder of the year, with a large focus on how to defeat Obamacare and get the more conservative candidates elected. At a September, 2012, meeting the Tea Party group also voted on candidate endorsements.

In December, 2011, Belsom told The State newspaper that the Tea Party was working politically against President Obama, and that, despite disagreements over candidates, “There’s agreement that we need to replace Obama and get our country going back in the right direction.” The Laurens County Tea Party also served as a co-sponsor, with the Tea Party Express and CNN, of a September, 2011 Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida.

Aside from the Tea Party groups, representatives of several other conservative organizations testified about problems regarding the status of their tax-exemption applications, though none of those groups were apparently part of the keyword targeting by the IRS. John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, a group opposing marriage equality for gays and lesbians, testified about an alleged IRS leak of their donor list.  Sue Martinek of the Coalition for Life of Iowa testified about questions the organization had to answer regarding its application for 501(c)(3) status back in 2008. (The Inspector General’s report did not examine 501(c)(3) applications, however, only those for would-be 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations.)

Kevin Kookogey, founder and president of Linchpins of Liberty, which applied for 501(c)(3) status and conducts conservative training for young people, testified that his group had been waiting 29 months to gain non-profit status. He failed to mention that despite this two-year-plus period, his group’s board of directors still had not been fully constituted and remains “under construction.” Having a fully constituted board of directors is an important requirement for any prospective non-profit organization, as the board is legally and financially responsible for the conduct of the organization.

In the end, the Republican leadership demonstrated no interest in ascertaining the actual facts of Tea Party involvement in prohibited political activity. Instead, Republican committee members simply used the Tea Party witnesses as props to score political points against the Obama administration.

While apologizing to the witnesses and calling the IRS handling of the matter “inept,” “stupid” and “a whole lot of other things,” Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) nevertheless insisted on raising the central issue. “I’d like to remind everyone what we’re talking about here. None of your organizations were kept from organizing or silenced. We’re talking about whether or not the American taxpayers will subsidize your work. We’re talking about a tax break. If you didn’t come in and ask for this tax break, you would’ve never had a question asked of you. You can go out there and say anything you want in the world.”

Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) noted early in the hearing that while 298 organizations were set aside for review, only 96, or a third, contained “Tea Party,” “9/12,” or “Patriot” in their names, while 202 did not. In fact, according to the draft report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, none of the 296 questionable applicants had been denied a tax exemption by the IRS The unaddressed scandal is that the IRS let so many of these groups get away with what appear to be severe violations of the law. Toward the hearing’s conclusion, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) indicated that the IRS’ flagging of groups by name had been wrong but noted, “No one has a God-given right to a tax-exempt status.” Tell that to the Tea Party.


By: Devin Burghart, The National Memo, Jube 6, 2013

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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