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“The GOP’s Next Big Cause”: How State Legislative Districts Are Drawn

The next King v. Burwell is on its way. I don’t mean another court case that could undermine the Affordable Care Act. I mean a case that follows this pattern:

First, a conservative advocate comes up with a novel legal theory, one few people had considered before, to accomplish a Republican goal. Though it flies in the face of either logic, history, and common sense (as is the case in King) or settled precedent (as in this case), Republicans everywhere quickly realize its potential and embrace it wholeheartedly, no matter how many silly arguments they might have to make along the way. And in the end, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court might or might not give the GOP a huge and unexpected victory.

The case is called Evenwel v. Abbott, and it’s about how state legislative districts are drawn. Before your eyes glaze over, understand that it could have a profound effect on the balance of power not only in the states but in Congress as well:

Decades after the Supreme Court set “one person, one vote” as the standard states must meet in creating legislative districts that equitably distribute political power, the justices agreed Tuesday to decide exactly which persons should count.

The court, in accepting a Texas case brought by a conservative advocacy group, will consider whether states and localities may continue to use a place’s total population as the basis or must make redistricting decisions based on the number of citizens who are eligible to vote.

A shift from using total population would have an enormous impact in states with large immigrant populations because of the greater numbers of children and noncitizens. It would most likely transfer power from urban areas to more rural districts. The court will schedule the case for the new term that begins in October.

The analogy with King v. Burwell isn’t perfect, because that was a completely new issue, while this question has come before the courts from time to time. But most people who aren’t redistricting law experts have probably never even considered whether you could exclude children and immigrants from counting population in order to determine legislative districts.

But I promise you: before long, every Republican is going to decide that they firmly believe, as the most fundamental expression of their commitment to democracy and the vision of the Founding Fathers, that only eligible voters should count when tallying population to determine district lines.

One thing to watch out for as this plays out is the role of the conservative media. If I’m right, very soon you’re going to see Fox News hosts and radio talkers like Rush Limbaugh doing segments on this case, in effect instructing conservatives on what’s at stake and how they should think about the issue. That consistent drumbeat won’t only affect the conservative leaders and rank-and-file, it could even affect the Supreme Court justices, who will hear the arguments being made in the media in support of these plaintiffs. After a while, a legal theory that sounded absurd will begin to seem at the very least to be mainstream. In short order, there will be universal agreement on the right. And it could have a real impact on political power even if the plaintiffs lose.

That’s because the Supreme Court could rule a few different ways. They could hold that states must use total population. Or they could do what the plaintiffs ask, which is to require states to use only the number of eligible voters. Or they could maintain the status quo, which is that states can choose whatever method they like in determining population. If that’s the route they take (which would be in line with prior cases), it would open the door for a state-by-state Republican effort to change redistricting laws.

As it happens, the defendant in this case is the state of Texas, which wants to keep its current system. Let’s say the Court rules that things should stay as they are. That would allow states to use only eligible voters in counting population; it just happens that no state has done that before now. By the time the ruling comes down, however, Republicans will have woken up to the fact that here is a handy way to increase their power by diluting the representation of areas with large immigrant populations. If you had a state with a lot of immigrants but which was ruled by Republicans — like, just to pull an example at random, Texas — changing the way population is counted will suddenly seem like an urgent priority. Other states with large immigrant populations where Republicans are in charge, like Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina, could get on board as well.

While this case only concerns state legislative districts, as law professor Rick Hasen writes, “you can bet that if the challengers are successful in this case, they will argue for the same principle to be applied to the drawing of national congressional districts.”

It’s too early to tell how the Supreme Court might rule, though most legal observers were surprised they decided to hear the case at all. If Democrats are smart, they’ll make the (perfectly true) argument that this is a naked attempt to take representation away from areas where there are lots of Latinos. That might give Republicans pause in trying to pursue this change if the Court allows it.

On the other hand, when faced with a choice between pleasing their base and enhancing their power on the one hand, and avoiding alienating Latinos on the other, Republicans always chosen the first. That could make this just one more way that Republicans manage to entrench themselves at the state level while making it exceedingly difficult for them to win another presidential election in the near future.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, May 27, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Evenwel v Abott, State Legislative Districts, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“To Your Health?”: The Right-Wing Belief That Food Inspection Isn’t Terribly Important And Constitutes A Waste Of Time And Money

Brother Benen and Rick Perlstein have long written about “E. coli conservatism,” the right-wing belief that food inspection isn’t terribly important and constitutes a waste of time and money. (Rachel Maddow ran a great segment in 2011 on this mentality.) “E. coli conservatism” almost rivals climate-change denial as the scariest manifestation of right-wing dementia; after all, what person in their right mind would not care about their own health, to say nothing of the health of our planet?

If the right had its way, what you eat would likely wind up eating you. A story from the Boston Globe illustrates the importance of food and restaurant inspection–and the foolishness of those who don’t take this issue seriously.

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston’s restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause food-borne illness — the most serious of three levels — were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

A violation is classified under the most serious category when inspectors observe improper practices or procedures that research has identified as the most prevalent contributing factors of food-borne illness.

Examples of such infractions include: not storing food or washing dishes at proper temperatures, employees not following hand-washing and glove-wearing protocols, and evidence that insects or rodents have been near food.

Now imagine if those inspectors weren’t on the job. Imagine if some right-wing hyper-libertarian nutjob managed to convince Bostonians that the restaurants could regulate themselves, that unelected bureaucrats shouldn’t interfere in private business transactions, that government was the problem. How many Bostonians would wind up dead as a result?

Right-wing ideology can be fatal. Just how fatal? Think about this.

Food-borne illness typically causes relatively minor symptoms — the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food-borne illness each year — but it can be much more serious. An estimated 128,000 people nationwide are hospitalized because food-borne illnesses each year and 3,000 die from them.

That’s right. Because we don’t inspect enough, because we aren’t vigilant enough, because we haven’t pushed back against we-don’t-need-government! ideology enough, we suffer the equivalent of a 9/11 death toll every year.

I’d love to crack a joke about right-wing parasites, but “E. coli conservatism” is no laughing matter. Right-wing ideology is quite literally hard to stomach.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Food Borne Illness, Food Inspections, Public Health | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“From ‘Con man’ To Governor?”: The Republican Nominee For Governor In The Great State Of Kentucky

A year ago, Matt Bevin was seen as a rather ridiculous figure in Kentucky Republican politics. He’d launched a primary fight against incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which led the GOP establishment to go after Bevin with a vengeance.

The results weren’t pretty. Bevin was labeled by leaders of his own party as a “con man” who lies “pathologically.” The first-time candidate was exposed as a man who lied about his educational background, and whose business needed a taxpayer bailout. By Primary Day, Bevin lost by 25 points, and his career in politics appeared to be effectively over.

A year later, however, Kentucky Republicans will have to stop calling him a dishonest con man and start calling him their nominee for governor. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported this morning:

After Thursday’s recanvass of votes cast in the Republican primary for governor, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said that there were “no substantial changes” and that she thought Matt Bevin would be the GOP nominee when the vote is certified June 8.

This morning, Bevin’s primary rival conceded the race. Bevin will now take on state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in November, in the race to replace outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

McConnell, who characterized Bevin as a dangerous loon just last year, issued a statement this morning that said, “I congratulate Matt Bevin on his victory and endorse him for governor.”

It’s just such an improbable scenario. Even this year, the GOP gubernatorial primary was supposed to come down to state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner. But when the top candidates turned on each other, they ended up tearing each other down, clearing the way for Bevin.

I honestly can’t think of a comparable recent situation in which a state party viciously tore a guy down one year, only to scramble to build him back up less than a year later.

As for whether or not Bevin might actually become governor, we’ll find out soon enough – this has instantly become the most interesting race of 2015 – but as the process continues, I’m reminded of my favorite Matt Bevin story.

In early 2014, as regular readers may recall, Bevin accepted an invitation from the Gamefowl Defense Network and he delivered a speech to several hundred attendees. Asked later for an explanation, the GOP candidate claimed ignorance, saying he thought he was addressing a states’ rights group and had no idea he was speaking to pro-cockfighting activists.

The event’s hosts soon after explained that Bevin’s defense was literally unbelievable: the “entire rally” was devoted to the issue and “there was never any ambiguity” about the point of the gathering organized by the Gamefowl Defense Network.

Bevin told reporters he was “the first speaker” at the event and left before he realized what the Gamefowl Defense Network was up to. It turns out, that wasn’t true – the group’s director was the first speaker and he made it abundantly clear what the gathering was all about.

Bevin also told reporters he didn’t address the issue of cockfighting itself, which also turned out to be untrue – he specifically told attendees at the end, “I support the people of Kentucky exercising their right, because it is our right to decide what it is that we want to do, and not the federal government’s.”

Making matters slight worse, when msnbc originally asked Bevin about his appearance, he argued, “It wasn’t a cockfighting event, that’s where you all need to start telling the truth about what happened.”

Yes, telling the truth about it is important.

Bevin eventually apologized for the whole mess. Now he’s the Republican nominee for governor in the great state of Kentucky.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 29, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Kentucky, Matt Bevin, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , | Leave a comment

“If You’re Scratching Your Head, You’re Not Alone”: Rubio Is Confused About Christianity, Marriage Equality, And The Constitution

Marco Rubio went on television with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody and suggested that Christianity is on the verge of being labeled “hate speech.”

If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone.

Rubio’s rambling statement botched a simple understanding of constitutional law and free speech rights. Not to mention reality.

According to CBN’s transcript:

“If you think about it, we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” Rubio told CBN News. “Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

“So what’s the next step after that?” he asked.

“After they are done going after individuals, the next step is to argue that the teachings of mainstream Christianity, the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech and there’s a real and present danger,” he warned.

Rubio appeared to be referring to the legal concept of “clear and present danger,” which the Supreme Court developed in the early 20th century, attempting to articulate the circumstances under which the government can proscribe political speech. Through the early 20th century the Court applied it in situations in which a person’s speech was deemed to be a threat to national security, sustaining a war effort, or to the stability of the government. But in the later part of the century, the Court abandoned it.

The Court last appeared to address this idea in 1969, in Brandenburg v. Ohio. In that case, it reversed the conviction of Clarence Brandenburg, a Ku Klux Klan leader, under an Ohio statute that criminalized “crime, sabotage, violence, or unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform” for a speech in which he said, “if our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.” The Ohio law, the Court held, violated Brandenburg’s free speech rights.

Although the Court’s opinion does not use the term “clear and present danger” and explicitly reject it, in his concurrence, Justice William O. Douglas noted his skepticism that it could be squared with the First Amendment at all. “Though I doubt if the ‘clear and present danger’ test is congenial to the First Amendment in time of a declared war,” he wrote, “I am certain it is not reconcilable with the First Amendment in days of peace.”

Returning to Rubio’s statement, he is vague about who is labeling Catholic teaching “hate speech.” Does he mean the government? Does he mean people on the internet? Under the First Amendment, the government cannot stop citizens from engaging in speech, even if a listener finds it hateful. If by “they” he means American citizens, the simple answer is “they” have a constitutionally protected right to criticize the Catholic church; the church also has a constitutionally protected right to its doctrine.

But if Rubio is suggesting that “they” are the government, I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the scenario he is suggesting. Is he suggesting the government will deem a church’s teaching “hate speech?” There’s no basis or precedent that would remotely suggest that the government could regulate religious speech (whether “mainstream Christian teaching” or other religious teaching) at all, much less deeming it “hate speech.” The Free Exercise Clause protects religious practice and religious speech. Under the Free Speech Clause, the government cannot proscribe “hate speech” or even define it. Under the Establishment Clause, the government cannot endorse (or renounce) a particular religion.

You can say gay people are intrinsically disordered. Or you can say they don’t have a constitutional right to get married. They can say you’re a homophobe. The government can’t stop any of you.

But Rubio blurs the issue by suggesting that a nebulous “they” will first “go[] after individuals,” after which there is a slippery slope to arguing that “the catechism of the Catholic Church is hate speech.” Although CBN transcribed his next words as “and there’s a real and present danger,” if you watch the video, he says, “and that’s a real and present danger.” Suggesting, therefore, not that he believes “they” will argue that Catholic teaching is a “real and present danger” (whatever that is) but that the nebulous “they” present a “real and present danger” to Christianity.

Rubio’s statement is simply a confused muddle of fear-mongering and constitutional misconception. Neither of which is very presidential.

 

By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, May 28, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Christianity, Marco Rubio, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“State Of Disaster”: How Many Natural Disasters Will It Take For The Lone Star State To Wake Up To The Disaster Of Its Elected Officials?

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested – and President Obama has granted – federal help.

I don’t begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we’re all part of America. When some of us are in need, we all have a duty to respond.

But the flow of federal money poses a bit of awkwardness for the Lone Star State.

After all, just over a month ago hundreds of Texans decided that a pending Navy Seal/Green Beret joint training exercise was really an excuse to take over the state and impose martial law. And they claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency was erecting prison camps, readying Walmart stores as processing centers for political prisoners.

There are nut cases everywhere, but Texas’s governor, Greg Abbott added to that particular outpouring of paranoia by ordering the Texas State Guard to monitor the military exercise. “It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” he said. In other words, he’d protect Texans from this federal plot.

Now, Abbott wants federal money. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency is gearing up for a major role in the cleanup – including places like Bastrop, Texas, where the Bastrop State Park dam failed – and where, just five weeks ago, a U.S. Army colonel trying to explain the pending military exercise was shouted down by hundreds of self-described patriots shouting “liar!”

Texans dislike the federal government even more than most other Americans do. According to a February poll conducted by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune, only 23 percent of Texans view the federal government favorably, while 57 percent view it unfavorably, including more than a third who hold a “very unfavorable” view.

Texas dislikes the federal government so much that eight of its congressional representatives, along with Senator Ted Cruz, opposed disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy – adding to the awkwardness of their lobbying for the federal relief now heading Texas’s way.

Yet even before the current floods, Texas had received more disaster relief than any other state, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. That’s not simply because the state is so large. It’s also because Texas is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather – tornadoes on the plains, hurricanes in the Gulf, flooding across its middle and south.

Given this, you might also think Texas would take climate change especially seriously. But here again, there’s cognitive dissonance between what the state needs and how its officials act.

Among Texas’s infamous climate-change deniers is Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, who dismissed last year’s report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “more political than scientific,“ and the White House report on the urgency of addressing climate change as designed “to frighten Americans.”
Smith is still at it. His committee just slashed by more than 20 percent NASA’s spending on Earth science, which includes climate change.

It’s of course possible that Texas’s current record rainfalls – the National Weather Service reports that the downpour in May alone was enough to put the entire state under eight inches of water  – has  nothing to do with the kind of extreme weather we’re witnessing elsewhere in the nation, such as the West’s current drought, the North’s record winter snowfall, and flooding elsewhere.

But you’d have to be nuts not to be at least curious about such a connection, and its relationship to the carbon dioxide humans have been spewing into the atmosphere.

Consider also the consequences for the public’s health. Several deaths in Texas have been linked to the extreme weather. Many Texans have been injured by it, directly or indirectly. Poor residents are in particular peril because they live in areas prone to flooding or in flimsy houses and trailers that can be washed or blown away.

What’s Texas’s response?  Texas officials continue to turn down federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, thereby denying insurance to more than 1 million people and preventing the state from receiving an estimated $100 billion in federal cash over the next decade.

I don’t want to pick on Texas. Its officials are not alone in hating the federal government, denying climate change, and refusing to insure its poor.

And I certainly don’t want to suggest all Texans are implicated. Obviously, many thoughtful and reasonable people reside there.

Yet Texans have elected people who seem not to have a clue. Indeed, Texas has done more in recent years to institutionalize irrationality than almost anywhere else in America – thereby imposing a huge burden on its citizens.

How many natural disasters will it take for the Lone Star State to wake up to the disaster of its elected officials?

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 31, 2015

June 1, 2015 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Natural Disasters, Texas | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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