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“No Is A Poor Answer”: Any Regrets Over The Terri Schiavo Fight?’

At last week’s CPAC event, Fox’s Sean Hannity asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), “Any regrets over the Terri Schiavo fight?” The likely presidential candidate responded that he has no regrets at all.

“[I]n this case, here was a woman who was vulnerable, and the court, because of our laws, didn’t allow her – they were going to allow her to be starved to death,” Bush said. “So we passed a law, Terri’s Law that was a year later ruled unconstitutional. I stayed within the law, but I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line. They should receive our love and protection. And that’s exactly what I did.”

The far-right audience applauded the answer, though Bloomberg Politics reports today that some social conservatives in Iowa are still bothered Bush didn’t defy the judiciary and ignore court orders.

Michael Schiavo, however, has a very different perspective.

Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America’s culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates…. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it’s the Jebbest thing Jeb’s ever done.

“It was a living hell,” Michael Schiavo told Politico, “and I blame him.”

Folks should read the whole report to get a complete picture, but there’s one angle to this story that often goes overlooked, and which Jeb will probably have to comment on sooner or later. Those who followed the story at the time probably remember the gist of the heartbreaking controversy: Terri Schiavo spent a decade in a vegetative state. Michael Schiavo eventually decided it was time to remove his wife from the feeding tubes that were keeping her alive, and he went to court to get approval to allow Terri to die naturally.

Jeb Bush intervened and a political circus ensued.

What I’d forgotten about was that Terri Schiavo’s death did not end the controversy. In the summer of 2005, a few months after Schiavo passed, Jeb Bush asked a prosecutor to investigate whether Michael Schiavo called 911 too slowly 15 years earlier.

In other words, based on nothing, Florida’s then-governor kept pushing the Terri Schiavo controversy, even after she was gone, suggesting foul play may have been a factor in her case. Is it any wonder Michael Schiavo blames Bush for turning his life into “a living hell”?

It fell to Florida’s state attorney to tell Bush there was simply no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

“Any regrets over the Terri Schiavo fight?” is a good question. “No” is a poor answer.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 6, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | CPAC, Jeb Bush, Terri Schiavo | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right To Discriminate”: What Do The GOP Candidates Think Of State ‘Conscience Clause’ Legislation?

There’s an interesting/horrifying piece in today’s New York Times about a trend across the country, but mostly in the South, to enact “conscience” legislation at the state level that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people if they can justify it on the basis of their religion. One interesting facet of this issue is that the moneyed interests in the GOP, along with big corporations (not the same thing, but there’s plenty of overlap) are completely spooked by these bills. We’ll get to that in a moment, but here are some colorful details:

“The L.G.B.T. movement is the main thing, the primary thing that’s going to be challenging religious liberties and the freedom to live out religious convictions,” said State Senator Joseph Silk, an Oklahoma Republican and the sponsor of a bill in that state. “And I say that sensitively, because I have homosexual friends.”

Of course he does. He goes on:

“They don’t have a right to be served in every single store,” said Mr. Silk, the Oklahoma state senator, referring to gay people. “People need to have the ability to refuse service if its violates their religious convictions.”

I mean, come on. Gay people want to be able to go into every single store? Who do they think they are?

But this brings up a question for me. When the religious conservatives pushing these bills argue for why they’re needed, they always mention a retailer whose work gets right down into all that gayness. Like the baker who might have to make a cake for a gay couple and live through the horror of placing two female figurines on top of the cake, or the photographer who might have to take their picture, trying to see his camera’s viewfinder through the veil of tears he weeps at the destruction of the American family represented by two people making a commitment to spend their lives together.

But no legislator is going to specify an exhaustive list of who would and wouldn’t be able to refuse service, because doing so would be a very difficult thing to write into a bill’s text. Instead, the right to discriminate is inevitably written broadly. For example, one bill in Oklahoma says: “No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Which would mean, for instance, that it would be legal for any store or restaurant to put up a sign saying, “We don’t serve gays.” Other bills (here, for example) are written even more broadly, just saying that the state can’t stop you from acting on your sincerely held religious beliefs, which would include discriminating against gay people if that’s your thing.

As the Times story details, some of these bills have died in the face of opposition from business interests; for instance, when Walmart came out against the one in Arkansas, it was pretty much doomed. The company may be conservative in many ways, but it doesn’t want its state to be known as a bastion of hatred and discrimination.

So I’d be interested to hear specifically from some influential Republicans—like, say, the ones running for president—on what they think of these laws. I looked around a bit and didn’t find any of them commenting on it, which isn’t too surprising given that it’s been playing out at the state level. But maybe someone should start asking. Do they think a baker ought to be able to discriminate? And if they say that there ought to be a way for the baker to exercise his “conscience,” then the next question is, what about a restaurant? What about a hardware store?


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, March 6, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Conscience Legislation, Discrimination, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Balancing The Budget”: How Ferguson, Missouri, Uses Cops And The Courts To Prey On Its Residents

More than seven years ago, a black woman parked her car illegally in Ferguson, Missouri. She received two tickets and a $151 fine. The woman, sometimes homeless, struggled to pay it off, and over the next several years she was slapped with seven “Failure to Appear” citations for missing payments and court dates. Each of those citations added to the debt she owed the city and resulted in an arrest warrant. By 2014, she’d been arrested twice, spent nearly a week in jail, and had paid the city $550. As of December, she still owed $541.

“Inexplicable,” is how Attorney General Eric Holder summed up her story at a press conference on Wednesday, at which he unveiled the Department of Justice’s long-anticipated report on the Ferguson police department and municipal court. The report affirms what residents have long said: that officers routinely profile citizens based on their race and violate their constitutional rights. Critically, the report addresses the roots of the police force’s discriminatory practices. Not simply the fault of racist cops, the DoJ asserts, they stem from the way the city preys on residents financially, relying on the fines that accompany even minor offenses to balance its budget.

The report traces the pattern of racial bias from traffic stops to arrests to the courtroom and, finally, to a cycle of incarceration and indebtedness. Black residents make up about 67 percent of the Ferguson population. According to the DoJ, they experienced 85 percent of all traffic stops, 90 percent of citations, 88 percent of incidents in which an officer used force, and 93 percent of all arrests. They received almost all of the citations for petty crimes like jaywalking. Black drivers were twice as likely to have their cars searched as whites, yet significantly less likely to actually have drugs or other contraband. Of the people who spent two or more days in the city jail, 95 percent were black.

Overt, grotesque racism among city officials underlies these statistics. The report includes a handful of e-mails between police and municipal court officials that contain derogatory language, such as a November 2008 message stating that President Obama would not be in office long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another, from 2011, contained a photo of a group of women dancing topless and “apparently in Africa” with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

But a subtler, systemic pressure also encourages over-policing in Ferguson: the way that the city relies on the fines levied on violators to fund itself. “Officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue,” states the report. This year the city expects to raise $3.09 million of projected $13.26 million in revenue from fines and fees, which it levies wherever possible. An unmowed lawn, for instance, costs Ferguson residents between $77 and $102, though in some other cities it’s a $5 offense.

Not surprisingly, DoJ found that the city “exhorts” police to maximize revenue via stops, citations, and arrests, and in some cases punishes them for failing to meet targets. In 2010, for example, Ferguson’s finance director wrote to the police chief that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year…. it’s not an insignificant issue.” Each unpaid fine generates other fees and often arrest warrants; in effect, it is poverty that’s punished.

Hunger for revenue influences how officers act, resulting in excessive uses of force—with Tasers and dogs—,violations of free speech and unreasonable stops or arrests, according to the DoJ. It has also made the police a “collection agency” for the municipal court, and in turn transformed the courtroom into a shakedown site, where the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment are abandoned, particularly in cases involving black residents. The court “primarily” uses its authority to “advance the City’s financial interest,” not to advance justice, the DoJ found. The police, meanwhile, use arrest warrants not to protect public safety but as the primary means of collecting outstanding fines.

None of this is particularly surprising to people who’ve come into contact with the criminal-justice system in the St. Louis region. “Municipal courts in this area have always been revenue producers,” said Brendan Roediger, who directs a legal clinic at the St. Louis University School of Law. “It means that bad policing pays off.” Most of the roughly ninety municipalities in St. Louis County have their own courts, which operate part-time and, Roediger says, function much like Ferguson’s: for the purpose of balancing budgets. The town of St Ann, just a few miles east of Ferguson, lost its shopping mall in 2010, and the associated tax dollars. Since then revenue from citations has shot up, from $500,000 to $3.5 million from traffic tickets and fines alone, according to one estimate.

According to Radley Balko of The Washington Post, some towns in St. Louis County collect 40 percent or more of their revenue from fines levied by their municipal courts for petty violations. The town of Bel-Ridge (population 2,700, and more than 80 percent black), for example, was projected to collect an average of $450 per household in municipal court fines in 2014, making those fees its largest source of revenue. That money gets pumped right back into the system; $25,000 goes to the prosecuting attorney for the twelve hours they spend in court each month.

“One of the big fears I have about the DoJ’s report is that it’s going to isolate Ferguson, just because that’s what their purview was, but it’s going to ignore the fact that this is going on in ninety other towns in our region, and in many states in America,” said Thomas Harvey, executive director of the legal aid group Arch City Defenders. “This cycle of being stopped, ticketed, fined and jailed is so pervasive for black people in our region that many folks can’t tell you how many times they’ve been jailed on unpaid fines.” He continued, “I’m not exaggerating when I say that people are literally held in these jails and extorted for monetary payments on a daily basis until they’ve tapped out their friends, their families, everything they’ve got in order to get out.”

Harvey and Roediger think the municipal courts should be dissolved, and the cases turned over to circuit courts. The long list of recommendations for reforms included in the DoJ’s report do not go that far, although the agency did suggest that city reduce fines, develop alternative payment plans, and stop jailing people for failing to pay fines, among other things.

“Nothing is off the table,” Holder warned Ferguson officials during the press conference, noting that although the recommendations are voluntary, his department reserves the right to intervene to protect the constitutional rights of Ferguson’s residents. He nodded to the wider geography of the issue, saying that the DoJ would also work with “surrounding municipalities” to reform their law enforcement practices. It’s “the underlying culture” of the police department and the court system that need to change, he said. As the DoJ’s report shows, the underlying economics need changing, too.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, March 4, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | DOJ, Ferguson Missouri, Police Abuse | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Congress Might Step In To Fix The Problem”: How Conservative Supreme Court Justices Harmed Their Own Anti-Obamacare Cause

Wednesday’s Supreme Court oral arguments made it evident that at least some conservative justices are worried about the disruption they’ll create if they rule for the challengers in King v. Burwell and void Affordable Care Act subsidies in 34 states.

The justices and lawyers themselves didn’t dwell on humanitarian costs, but those most hostile to the law repeatedly sought to downplay the consequences of an adverse ruling.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Carvin, argued against all logic to incredulous liberal justices that eliminating subsidies wouldn’t leave states saddled with a punishing regulatory regime. Antonin Scalia got laughed out of court (sort of) for claiming Congress might step in to fix the problem. Samuel Alito even intimated that states might step in and establish their own exchanges. The Court could even lend them several months time to do so.

“It’s not too late for a state to establish an exchange if we were to adopt Petitioners’ interpretation of the statute,” Alito said. “So going forward, there would be no harm.”

If his suggestion was designed to appeal to skeptical conservatives, like Chief Justice John Roberts, and Anthony Kennedy, he may have harmed his own cause.

Alito’s comments evoke the image of many or most of the states that opted in to federally facilitated exchanges scrambling to reverse their decisionsto keep subsidies flowing and preserve the viability of their individual insurance markets.

That would stem the disruption. But it would also underscore the anti-federalist concerns Kennedy raised during oral arguments in dramatic fashion. What’s better evidence of coercion than sending a bunch of states into a blind panic to do something they weren’t originally inclined to do?

Supporters of the challenge might argue that the source of coercion in that case would be the disappearance of unauthorized subsidies, rather than the underlying scheme in the law. Essentially that this would all be the Obama administration’s fault. But Kennedy was explicit in his admonitions that the coercion problems with the challengers interpretation of ACA run deeper than money transferred by the federal government.

“The states are being told either create your own exchange, or we’ll send your insurance market into a death spiral,” Kennedy said. “We’ll have people pay mandated taxes which will not get any credit on on the subsidies. The cost of insurance will be sky­ high.”

To dull the implications of Kennedy’s concerns, conservatives enlisted Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who banged out an op-ed arguing that his own state’s experience contradicts the premise that the ACA-as-written is unconstitutionally intrusive.

“Oklahoma knew the consequences of its decision but was not coerced into cooperating with implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” Pruitt wrote.

The argument lacks credibility coming from someone who adopted his position, on the advice of conservative activists, precisely because “in states that have not established their own exchanges, the structure of the ACA will crumble.” Seeking Pruitt’s guidance on the ACA’s impositions on states is a bit like taking flight lessons from a kamikaze pilot.

But Pruitt’s point also doesn’t allay Kennedy’s substantive concerns. His interpretation of the ACA arose not from its plain text, but, again, from the input of meddling activists trying to destroy Obamacare. It doesn’t follow from the fact that Pruitt is keyed in to conservative movement strategy that the ACA provides states clear notice that its subsidies come with major strings attached. Moreover, Kennedy’s problem isn’t just with states responding to the threat, but with the threat itself. “If petitioners’ argument is correct,” Kennedy said, “this is just not a rational choice for the states to make.” In other words, even if several states continue to resist ACA implementation after an adverse ruling, there’s still a problem here, because the federal government shouldn’t be allowed to confront states with such onerous choices in the first place.

Assuming Kennedy meant what he said about coercion, he has several options, most of which augur well for the ACA. He could allow the challengers’ anti-federalist construction of the law to guide him to a better available interpretation (i.e. the government’s). He could determine that the challengers’ construction should be avoided in favor of one that isn’t unconstitutional. He could essentially rewrite it, as the Court rewrote the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, to sever the offending phrase. Or, less auspiciously, he could find for the challengers, and leave the subsidy condition on the books, anticipating that a constitutional challenge will arise as a result.

But the fact that Alito and Scalia assumed a ruling for the challengers would send political actors scrambling for a fix doesn’t advance their ends with anyone concerned about coercion. It actually just proves the point.


By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, March 6, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, King v Burwell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP’s Noticeable Absences In Selma”: Republicans Are Apparently Satisfied With Only Having Its White Base

A wide variety of American political leaders will be in Selma tomorrow to honor the 50th anniversary of the events at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Among the attendees will be President Obama and former President George W. Bush.

Politico reports, however, that the Republican congressional leadership will not be on hand for the event.

Scores of U.S. lawmakers are converging on tiny Selma, Alabama, for a large commemoration of a civil rights anniversary. But their ranks don’t include a single member of House Republican leadership – a point that isn’t lost on congressional black leaders.

None of the top leaders – House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who was once thought likely to attend to atone for reports that he once spoke before a white supremacist group – will be in Selma for the three-day event that commemorates the 1965 march and the violence that protesters faced at the hands of white police officers.

It’s not just the House GOP – Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is also skipping the event.

In fairness, it’s important to note that, as of yesterday, 23 congressional Republicans have said they’ll be in Selma for tomorrow’s ceremony, so it’d be an obvious overstatement to suggest a complete GOP no-show. But the Republican leadership – all of which was invited to attend – plays a unique role in representing the party overall. And yet, these leaders declined.

It’s reminiscent of August 2013, when a massive rally was held at the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Organizers encouraged the congressional Republican leadership to participate in the event, but GOP leaders declined those invitations, too.

To be clear, each of the Republican leaders who declined the invitations – both to tomorrow’s event in Selma and to the 2013 commemoration – may have a perfectly good excuse for their absence. There’s no evidence to the contrary.

But at a certain point, the party needs to realize that it has, among other things, a problem with appearances. On the one hand, the GOP sincerely seems to want to expand its outreach to minority communities, building the party beyond its overwhelmingly white base.

On the other hand, Republican leaders declined to participate in the Lincoln Memorial event in 2013; they’ve declined invitations to Selma; they had no public concerns after learning Steve Scalise attended a white-supremacist event; they’re slow walking the first African-American woman to ever be nominated as Attorney General; and they’re blocking a proposed bipartisan fix to the Voting Rights Act while their brethren at the state level impose new voting restrictions that disproportionately affect people of color.

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the Republican Party simply must do better than this.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 6, 2015

March 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Selma Alabama, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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