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“An Unholy Trinity For Discrimination”: Far-Right Justices Warn Of ‘An Ominous Sign’

The state of Washington has a law that requires pharmacies to dispense medications, even if individual pharmacists have religious objections. One family-owned pharmacy challenged the law in court, saying it shouldn’t be required to sell emergency contraception, which the pharmacy’s owners consider immoral.

An appeals court sided with the state, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, the justices announced they would not hear the case, which has the effect of leaving the lower court’s ruling intact.

And while that would ordinarily be the end of the dispute, yesterday offered a bit of a twist. The Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the appeal out of Washington, but at the same time, Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas released an angry rebuttal, saying they not only wanted to hear this case, they also consider the majority’s disinterest in the matter to be “an ominous sign.”

MSNBC’s Irin Carmon highlighted yesterday’s “unusual” statement.

“This case is an ominous sign,” Alito wrote in an unusual, 15-page response to the court refusing to hear Stormans v. Wiesman…. “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead,” Alito continued, sounding a lot like a man who foresees a bleak future for his side, “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”

No, actually, they almost certainly don’t.

As is always the case, especially in Supreme Court disputes, the details matter. In Washington, state law still allows individual pharmacists to raise religious objections to helping a customer, so long as some other employee can step in and provide the prescribed medication. The plaintiffs in Stormans v. Wiesman, however, wanted to go much further – refusing to stock Plan B altogether, regardless of public needs.

The state’s policy is based on the entirely reasonable idea that consumers should have access to medications that are safe and legal, and pharmacies shouldn’t have the authority to simply turn people away. The far-right trio on the high court obviously disagree, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained the broader implications of their dissent.

…Alito, Thomas, and Roberts seem to believe that, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, states are proscribed from requiring for-profit religious businesses to treat all customers equally. If this unholy trinity ever managed to rewrite the First Amendment this way, they could effectively bar states from protecting women, gays, and other minorities from religious-based discrimination. […]

Neither [Alito], Roberts, nor Thomas thinks refusal of service is a big deal when patients can hop back in their cars (presuming they have them) and drive to the nearest pharmacy that will deign to provide them with the proper medication. (Live in rural Washington? Hope you can find another pharmacy before the Plan B window closes!)

This cavalier dismissal of women’s interest in nondiscrimination flies in the face of precedent. The court used to say that when a religious accommodation burdens other people’s rights, the accommodation itself violates the separation of church and state. Now Alito wants to push that rule through the looking glass, arguing that there’s a possibility states must give religious employers the right to burden others – a burden that will fall disproportionately on women and gays.

Keep in mind, if four justices agree to hear a case, the Supreme Court takes the case. Were it not for Antonin Scalia’s passing, it’s very likely Stormans v. Wiesman would be on its way towards oral arguments.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Liberty, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Remembering The GOP Before Its Radicalization”: The List Of Officials Quitting The Republican Party Keeps Growing

Two weeks ago, an Iowa state senator who’s had a lengthy career in public service as a Republican announced he just couldn’t take it anymore: citing Donald Trump as a contributing factor, the lawmaker quit the GOP and changed his voter registration to “no party.”

A few days later, the Republican mayor of Hackensack, New Jersey, announced he too is giving up on the GOP, and he was joined by his deputy mayor. Both mentioned Trump in their statements and both switched their registration to “independent.”

Over the weekend, the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia reported on another joining the club.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, who has been a Republican for 45 years and has been elected mayor four times as a Republican, has left the party.

Jones announced Friday that he has switched his party registration to “unaffiliated.” He pointed to multiple factors, specifically the social conservative bent of the West Virginia House of Delegates and the rise of Donald Trump as the party’s presidential nominee.

In addition to his opposition to Trump’s candidacy, Jones noted the “obsession” among West Virginia Republicans to allow private-sector discrimination again LGBT Americans as one of the reasons he’s walking away from the party.

Jones, the mayor of West Virginia’s largest city, added, “I plan to complete my current term, and have no plans to run for any office ever again. I am not trying to pick a fight with anyone.”

It’s important, of course, not to overstate matters based on a handful of examples. Four local officials do not necessarily a trend make.

But every time I read about someone like Danny Jones, I wonder how many other Danny Joneses there are out there: Americans who’ve long considered themselves Republicans, who remember what the GOP was like before its radicalization, and who may be tempted to give up on the party in light of Trump’s nomination and antics.

It’s just not common for elected officials to abandon their party in an election year. The fact that these folks have abandoned the GOP this year probably isn’t a good sign.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 20, 2016

June 21, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Donald Trump, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Meatless Mondays”: Republicans’ Fowl Response To The Orlando Terrorist Attack

This is how the sausage is made:

After last weekend’s terrorist attack in Orlando, the people’s representatives in Washington scrambled to counter the growing threat to national security . . . from vegetarianism.

A nearly 15-hour filibuster by Senate Democrats to force action on keeping guns out of the hands of terrorists produced little: They’ll get a vote, but the measure is likely to be defeated by Republicans on Monday.

House GOP leadership, meanwhile, killed a Democratic effort to extend non-discrimination protections for gay people — the demographic targeted in the Orlando shooting.

But the House on Thursday did pass a plan to block the spreading menace to the U.S. military posed by Meatless Mondays.

“I rise to ensure that our men and women in uniform have options on their menu when they seek nutrition in the cafeteria,” Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) proclaimed. “Ideologically motivated activists are working to take meat off the menu in institutions across the country.”

But Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.) had a beef with that argument. “I appreciate the gentleman’s concern about ideological activists attacking the menus at the Department of Defense, but I do trust they will have the intestinal fortitude to resist those particular attacks,” he said. He assured his cattle-state opponent that “there is no policy under consideration to eliminate meat from the nutritional programs for our military services.”

Indeed, a Pentagon spokesman investigating the matter had found no evidence of an anti-meat campaign by Thursday night. But Smith was bullheaded in his advocacy. “Meat contains vitamins and nutrients not readily available in a plant-based diet,” he argued. “In fact, creatine, which supplies energy to muscle cells and aids in their recovery, is only found in animal products.”

The Democrat would not be branded anti-carnivore. “I did have meat at lunch yesterday. I ate meat last night,” he said. But he objected to Republicans, who like to complain about regulatory overreach, attempting to legislate menus.

“Should we start considering whether we should be using diced tomatoes in our various food service areas, or should we do whole tomatoes?” he asked. “Should we, when we serve tuna fish, have chunk white or solid white?”

Thus was the response to the Orlando atrocity. Lawmakers declined to keep guns and explosives out of suspected terrorists’ hands. They refused to extend equal protection to gay Americans. But they bravely repelled an imaginary threat to hamburgers.

Never mind that the Pentagon is attacking neither red meat nor fish nor fowl. The pro-meat forces prevailed in a voice vote.

And this was part of a profoundly depressing reaction to one of the worst mass killings the country has seen. Donald Trump implied that President Obama was in cahoots with the Islamic State and then tweeted an article from a right-wing publication saying the administration “actively supported” the terrorist group.

Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Obama was “directly responsible” for the attack in Orlando, before clarifying that Obama wasn’t “personally responsible.”

In the House, Republicans aped Trump’s anti-immigration histrionics by allowing votes on measures to block the “dreamers” — immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children — from serving in the military. The attempt failed by the thinnest of margins.

GOP leaders refused to vote on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would protect LGBT employees of federal contractors from discrimination. But they allowed an amendment to the same bill that would protect service members from the invented scourge of Meatless Mondays.

“I am not willing to allow activist groups to tell members of our military, who risk their lives to keep us safe, they cannot enjoy a hamburger or steak on certain days of the week,” Smith said in a statement.

On the floor, he noted an “agenda to remove meat” by the U.S. Coast Guard, which has cut meat consumption by cadets at its academy. The Coast Guard wasn’t covered under the defense bill, but Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) still went hog wild. “Our military — we’d starve them for meat? We need them to be aggressive,” he said. He held up a photo of Norwegian troops who, he says, have Meatless Mondays and therefore can’t eat their beloved reindeer meat that day. “Let’s have a strong military,” King said. “Let them have a lot of protein.”

The House vote by itself did not protect the troops from the fanciful threat of creeping vegetarianism. The Senate, in its version of the defense bill, refused to take up a similar amendment by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who spoke of castrating hogs in her famous campaign ad. Ernst said, “The push for Meatless Mondays in our military is misguided.”

But this “push” is bull. The dangers our leaders won’t address — terrorists getting guns, and legal discrimination against gay people — are real.

 

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 17, 2016

June 20, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, House Republicans, Orlando Shootings, Terrorist Attacks, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Discrimination ‘R’ Us”: Texas Leads The Way In Transphobia, Yet Again

Texas is leading a pack of 11 states suing the Obama administration, to no one’s surprise, and this time the lawsuit comes on the back of the same ugly transphobia that has tainted the Lone Star state in recent years.

The lawsuit comes in response to a directive earlier this month by the Justice Department and the Department of Education that asks schools to allow students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identities. Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia joined Texas in the lawsuit.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a longtime, outspoken opponent of LGBT rights, praised the lawsuit in a statement this week, saying that President Obama “is more devoted to radical social engineering than to the democratic process and the separation of powers.” Cruz continued by saying that transgender equality will lead to the exploitation of girls at the hands of grown men, even though there are no known cases of transgender individuals taking advantage of bathroom access to commit a crime.

The effort to brainwash the good people in Texas isn’t new. Texas’s struggle against recognizing transgender rights began last year with a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, first passed by the city council and then subjected to a city-wide vote by the state’s supreme court.

HERO, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, included protections both gay and transgender residents and was championed by the city’s first lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.

In response to the effort, groups such as Campaign for Houston began a culture-wide propaganda campaign, enlisting the likes of former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman and pastor Ed Young. Conservatives in the state leaned heavily on the “men in girls’ bathrooms” narrative. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted before Houston voters took to the polls, urging residents to “Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.”

HERO was soundly defeated by Houstonians in a referendum vote.

This transphobic hysteria was so profound that it made waves in other states such as North Carolina, which went all-out by passing House Bill 2, an ordinance that trumped any local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protecting the transgender community’s right to use bathrooms based on gender identity. The state legislature’s bill was introduced, passed, and signed into law in a single day.

Texas’ latest transgender lawsuit follows a pattern by the state to challenge just about any move by the Obama administration that can be felt at the state level. Greg Abbott has spearheaded most of the lawsuits dating back to his time as Texas’ Attorney General, when he sued the federal government 31 times. His most prominent lawsuit came when he led 26 states in challenging Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

On the Democratic side, things are looking much different — as expected. Sen. Bernie Sanders took the lead this week by responding to a presidential questionnaire from the Trans United Fund. Sanders said he would utilize healthcare services and push for nondiscrimination policies.

“Too often, it seems as if the ‘T’ in LGBT is silent,” Sanders said. “In my administration, the T will not be silent.”

“It’s powerful that the Sanders campaign took the time to complete the survey and are unabashed in their support,” the Trans United Fund said, according to Buzzfeed. And although Hillary Clinton has vowed to stand with the transgender community, the group’s leaders said they felt “disappointed and perplexed” after the Democratic frontrunner failed to respond to the survey.

As Secretary of State, Clinton approved a policy allowing transgender people to change their gender identity on their passport as long as they obtain a doctor’s note certifying that they received “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”

 

By: Matt Tracy, The National Memo, May 26, 2016

May 27, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Greg Abbott, LGBT, Texas Legislature | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“After Capitol Hill ‘Chaos,’ Democrats Name Names”: House GOP Goes To The Mat To Allow Businesses To Discriminate

In recent years, not much has gotten done in Congress, so there aren’t a lot of opportunities for drama. And yet, yesterday, multiple headlines highlighted the “chaos” that erupted on the floor of the House of Representatives. So, what happened?

It was a chaotic scene on the House floor Thursday morning after an amendment to help protect LGBT people from discrimination failed by just one vote as Republicans succeeded in convincing a few members of their own party to switch their votes to help ensure the measure would not pass.

House Democrats could be heard chanting “shame, shame, shame” on the floor as the measure went from garnering up to 217 votes at one point down to just 212 when the vote was gaveled. Boos erupted from the House floor as the measure failed.

There are a couple of relevant angles to this. The first is the substance: two years ago, President Obama issued an executive order prohibiting government contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and applicants. Congressional Republicans won’t consider the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so the White House did what it could under the law.

Two years later, House Republicans want to undo that policy. When putting together this year’s big defense spending bill, the GOP quietly added a provision to restore contractors’ ability to discriminate. Pushing back, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) sponsored an amendment yesterday to nullify the anti-LGBT provision and protect the White House’s anti-discrimination policy.

It didn’t go well – the Republican majority defeated Maloney’s amendment. In 2016, the House GOP is still willing to go to the mat to allow businesses to discriminate, even when taxpayers’ money is being used.

Which brings us to the second angle: how House Republicans waged this fight.

The House allotted a couple of minutes to vote on Maloney’s measure, and when time was up, the amendment appeared to have passed. Except, in a fairly unusual move, Republican leaders decided to keep the vote open for a while in order to get some GOP members to switch their vote and endorse discrimination rights. What was a two-minute vote turned into an eight-minute vote – the kind of abuse Republicans used to condemn – so GOP leaders could twist arms and get the outcome they wanted.

And thus, “chaos.”

Democratic leaders, outraged by the ugliness and underhanded tactics, decided to name names, releasing the list of the seven House Republicans who agreed to switch their vote, after time had expired, to advance the anti-LGBT policy (in alphabetical order): Reps. Jeff Denham (R- Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), David Valadao (R-Calif.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Mimi Walters (R- Calif.), and David Young (R-Iowa).

Each of these members initially voted to do the right thing, but each reversed course.

And what of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who ostensibly leads the chamber and opposes keeping votes open like this? The Wisconsin congressman told reporters he agreed with the far-right position and wants to undo the administration’s policy. “This is federalism. The states should do this. The federal government shouldn’t stick its nose in this business,” Ryan said.

Or as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern put it, the Speaker of the House “believes that states should decide whether the federal government should allow federal contractors to use federal tax dollars to engage in anti-LGBTQ discrimination when working on federal projects overseen by federal agencies. And this man is the intellectual leader of the Republican Party.”

Paul Ryan keeps facing leadership tests. He keeps flunking.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 20, 2016

May 21, 2016 Posted by | Democrats, Discrimination, House Republicans, LGBT | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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