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“Donald Trump And The Courts”: Represents Everything GOP Claimed To Be Against When It Comes To The Court System

Usually when the judicial branch of government comes up during presidential campaigns, the discussion focuses on what kind of judges the candidate would nominate to the Supreme Court. For Donald Trump – his list of potential nominees is cause for concern. But that doesn’t even begin to capture the problem.

We’re hearing a lot lately about the lawsuit brought against him by former students of Trump University. His response hasn’t just been racist. It is downright disturbing.

“I have a judge who is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater. He’s a hater,” Trump said at a campaign rally in San Diego, adding that he believed the Indiana-born judge was “Mexican.”

He also suggested taking action against the judge after the election: “They ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. Okay? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case? Where everybody likes it. Okay. This is called life, folks.”

Legal experts are right when they suggest that this kind of personal vendetta undermines our courts.

On the other hand, Trump has “suggested” that he wants to exploit the judiciary in an attempt to bully his critics.

During a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, Trump began his usual tirade against newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, saying they’re “losing money” and are “dishonest.” The Republican presidential candidate then took a different turn, suggesting that when he’s president they’ll “have problems.”

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” Trump said.

Out goes the First Amendment and it’s protections of a free press. Think he’s kidding? Nick Penzenstadler and Susan Page provide history and data to demonstrate Trump’s pattern.

An exclusive USA TODAY analysis of legal filings across the United States finds that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his businesses have been involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades. They range from skirmishes with casino patrons to million-dollar real estate suits to personal defamation lawsuits.

OK, so that’s 3,500 cases over 3 decades. How does it look in the present?

Just since he announced his candidacy a year ago, at least 70 new cases have been filed, about evenly divided between lawsuits filed by him and his companies and those filed against them. And the records review found at least 50 civil lawsuits remain open even as he moves toward claiming the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in seven weeks.

Trump likes to dismiss this kind of thing as simply the cost of doing business. But Penzenstadler and Page compared this record to the legal involvement for five top real-estate business executives and found that “Trump has been involved in more legal skirmishes than all five of the others — combined.”

Trump’s abuse of the court system is simply another example of the way he exposes himself as a narcissistic bully.

He sometimes responds to even small disputes with overwhelming legal force. He doesn’t hesitate to deploy his wealth and legal firepower against adversaries with limited resources, such as homeowners. He sometimes refuses to pay real estate brokers, lawyers and other vendors.

In other words, Trump represents everything the Republicans have claimed to be against when it comes to exploiting the court system. As a friend of mine used to say…”Now run and tell that.”

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 2, 2016

June 3, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, GOP, Judicial System | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Time To Ban Guns. Yes, All of Them”: Urgently Needs To Become A Rhetorical And Conceptual Possibility

Ban guns. All guns. Get rid of guns in homes, and on the streets, and, as much as possible, on police. Not just because of San Bernardino, or whichever mass shooting may pop up next, but also not not because of those. Don’t sort the population into those who might do something evil or foolish or self-destructive with a gun and those who surely will not. As if this could be known—as if it could be assessed without massively violating civil liberties and stigmatizing the mentally ill. Ban guns! Not just gun violence. Not just certain guns. Not just already-technically-illegal guns. All of them.

I used to refer to my position on this issue as being in favor of gun control. Which is true, except that “gun control” at its most radical still tends to refer to bans on certain weapons and closing loopholes. The recent New York Times front-page editorial, as much as it infuriated some, was still too tentative. “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership,” the paper argued, making the case for “reasonable regulation,” nothing more. Even the rare ban-guns arguments involve prefacing and hedging and disclaimers. “We shouldn’t ‘take them away’ from people who currently own them, necessarily,” writes Hollis Phelps in Salon. Oh, but we should.

I say this not to win some sort of ideological purity contest, but because banning guns urgently needs to become a rhetorical and conceptual possibility. The national conversation needs to shift from one extreme—an acceptance, ranging from complacent to enthusiastic, of an individual right to own guns—to another, which requires people who are not politicians to speak their minds. And this will only happen if the Americans who are quietly convinced that guns are terrible speak out.

Their wariness, as far as I can tell, comes from two issues: a readiness to accept the Second Amendment as a refutation, and a reluctance to impose “elite” culture on parts of the country where guns are popular. (There are other reasons as well, not least a fear of getting shot.) And there’s the extent to which it’s just so ingrained that banning guns is impossible, legislatively and pragmatically, which dramatically weakens the anti-gun position.

The first issue shouldn’t be so complicated. It doesn’t take specialized expertise in constitutional law to understand that current U.S. gun law gets its parameters from Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment. But it’s right there in the First Amendment that we don’t have to simply nod along with what follows. That the Second Amendment has been liberally interpreted doesn’t prevent any of us from saying it’s been misinterpreted, or that it should be repealed.

When you find yourself assuming that everyone who has a more nuanced (or just pro-gun) argument is simply better read on the topic, remember that opponents of abortion aren’t wondering whether they should have a more nuanced view of  abortion because of Roe v. Wade. They’re not keeping their opinions to themselves until they’ve got a term paper’s worth of material proving that they’ve studied the relevant case law.

Then there is the privilege argument. If you grew up somewhere in America where gun culture wasn’t a thing (as is my situation; I’m an American living in Canada), or even just in a family that would have never considered gun ownership, you’ll probably be accused of looking down your nose at gun culture. As if gun ownership were simply a cultural tradition to be respected, and not, you know, about owning guns. Guns… I mean, must it really be spelled out what’s different? It’s absurd to reduce an anti-gun position to a snooty aesthetic preference.

There’s also a more progressive version of this argument, and a more contrarian one, which involves suggesting that an anti-gun position is racist, because crackdowns on guns are criminal-justice interventions. Progressives who might have been able to brush off accusations of anti-rural-white classism may have a tougher time confronting arguments about the disparate impact gun control policies can have on marginalized communities.

These, however, are criticisms of certain tentative, insufficient gun control measures—the ones that would leave small-town white families with legally-acquired guns well enough alone, allowing them to shoot themselves or one another and to let their guns enter the general population.

Ban Guns, meanwhile, is not discriminatory in this way. It’s not about dividing society into “good” and “bad” gun owners. It’s about placing gun ownership itself in the “bad” category. It’s worth adding that the anti-gun position is ultimately about police not carrying guns, either. That could never happen, right? Well, certainly not if we keep on insisting on its impossibility.

Ask yourself this: Is the pro-gun side concerned with how it comes across? More to the point: Does the fact that someone opposes gun control demonstrate that they’re culturally sensitive to the concerns of small-town whites, as well as deeply committed to fighting police brutality against blacks nationwide? I’m going to go with no and no on these. (The NRA exists!)

On the pro-gun-control side of things, there’s far too much timidity. What’s needed to stop all gun violence is a vocal ban guns contingent. Getting bogged down in discussions of what’s feasible is keeps what needs to happen—no more guns—from entering the realm of possibility. Public opinion needs to shift. The no-guns stance needs to be an identifiable place on the spectrum, embraced unapologetically, if it’s to be reckoned with.

 

By: Phoebe Maltz Bovy, The New Republic, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence, Guns, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Liberty Does Not Mean Taking Away Others’ Rights”: Kim Davis’ Beliefs Have Not Been Criminalized; Her Actions Have

Just after Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was released from jail, she appeared at a raucous rally to thank a throng of cheering supporters.

Her stance on same-sex marriage has attracted the high-profile attention of other ultraconservative political figures, including GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz, who attended the rally, and Mike Huckabee, who organized it.

They seem to believe that Davis has a constitutional right to discriminate against other citizens and to violate the laws of the land. Defending her on CNN, Huckabee said, “We have the first example of the criminalization of a Christian for believing the traditional definition of marriage. It is very, very shocking, to say the least.”

Though he mentioned such luminary historical figures as Jefferson and Lincoln, Huckabee has completely misunderstood the First Amendment and its protections. Davis’ beliefs have not been criminalized; her actions have been. She has every constitutional right to oppose same-sex marriage, to attend a church that denies those marriages, to organize opposition to marriage equality.

But she has no constitutional right to hold the office of Rowan County Clerk and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Succeeding her mother, who held the office for 37 years, Davis was elected just last year. Still, she has a very easy solution at hand: If her religious views are so rigid, she can resign her office. (A handful of clerks have done that rather than give licenses to same-sex couples.) As a private citizen, she may freely practice her brand of Biblical fundamentalism.

It’s important to get that distinction right.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that the government cannot deny marriage to homosexual couples, county clerks around the country were ordered to issue licenses to all couples who wanted the legal bonds of matrimony. A few refused initially, but most came to their senses.

Davis, however, chose to defy the specific order of U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning, and she was jailed for six days for contempt. She was released only after deputies in her office started to issue marriage licenses to “all legally eligible couples,” as the judge put it. He further ordered Davis not to interfere.

If she wants to continue as clerk, she should recognize the generous compromise that she’s been offered. She can continue her bluster and Biblical traditionalism on the speaking circuit if she chooses. But, as Rowan County Clerk, she represents the government. And the government may not discriminate. The First Amendment was adopted by the Founders to ensure that the government did not legitimize any particular set of religious beliefs over another.

Think of it this way: While marriage is often a religious ceremony, it is also a civil rite. Couples get married in city halls and before justices of the peace every day. Those ceremonies may not be offered to one group of citizens — heterosexuals — and withheld from another — homosexuals.

Churches, meanwhile, are free to follow their own theological traditions, which in this country are many and varied. There are churches that endorse, bless and perform same-sex marriages, while others are abhorred by the idea. That’s one example of the nation’s vibrant religious pluralism.

After the high court’s marriage ruling, conservative preachers around the country panicked, insisting that their beliefs were under attack, that they were being persecuted, that they would be ordered to perform marriage rites for homosexuals. Not gonna happen. For centuries, clerics have chosen to perform those ceremonies — baptisms, weddings, funerals — they believed appropriate. No law has ever challenged their decisions.

But the United States is a secular democracy, not a theocracy. We are committed to protecting religious liberty, but the nation cannot allow any group’s religious ideology to strip away another group’s human rights. Sometimes, those conflicting ideals require a delicate balance, as when Catholic hospitals are allowed to refuse to perform abortions — even when doing so jeopardizes a woman’s health.

But Davis’ intransigence requires no Solomonic decision making. She has no right to be Rowan County Clerk. If she won’t do the job, she needs to step aside.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, September 12, 2015

September 14, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Kim Davis, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Corrupting Influence On Politics”: Will Influence Of Big Money Be A Big Issue In 2016?

For many years, Democrats have wanted more restrictive campaign finance rules, while Republicans have wanted to loosen restrictions. But it’s likely that the 2016 campaign will feature more outside money than ever before, as millionaires and billionaires take advantage of an almost-anything-goes environment to buy themselves candidates and shift the race in their favored direction. The Koch brothers alone plan to spend nearly a billion dollars (with the help of some friends) on the election.

Nevertheless, the consensus on the campaign finance issue has long been that while voters are generally in favor of reform, it isn’t a motivating issue for many of them. They care more about the economy or health care or foreign policy, and while they might shake their head at the influence of money in politics, in the end the issue won’t make much of a difference in the campaign’s outcome.

But is it possible that 2016 will be the year it finally does? Matea Gold has a piece in today’s paper arguing that it might:

At almost the same time last week that a Florida mailman was landing a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol to protest the influence of the wealthy on politics, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was getting pressed about the same topic at a town hall meeting in Londonderry, N.H.

“I think what is corrupting in this potentially is we don’t know where the money is coming from,” Christie (R) told Valerie Roman of Windham, N.H.

The two moments, occurring 466 miles apart, crystallized how money in politics is unexpectedly a rising issue in the 2016 campaign.

Hillary Rodham Clinton announced last week that one of the top planks of her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination will be reforming a “dysfunctional” campaign finance system. And several of her GOP rivals — quizzed by voters in town hall meetings — have begun lodging their own criticisms of how big-money interests dominate politics.

It’s the last part that’s really a surprise. Republicans have usually put the emphasis on maximal liberty, arguing that restrictions on contributions and outside spending infringe upon the First Amendment. Democrats counter that a liberty that’s available only to the super-wealthy isn’t much of a liberty at all, and all this money, particularly when it’s so hard to know where it comes from, inevitably has a corrupting influence on politics. But now even Republicans seem to be saying things have gone too far.

Of course, it’s easy to just shake your head and say, “Yeah, it’s gotten really bad,” before you head off to your next fundraiser or meeting with Sheldon Adelson. And that’s how lots of candidates have handled the issue in the past: some general words of agreement or a vaguely worded position that doesn’t lock them in to doing much of anything about the problem.

But even if most voters don’t put campaign finance at the top of their priority list, there’s an opening for a candidate who can connect disgust over the political situation in Washington (which has become almost universal) with displeasure over the funding of campaigns to devise a broad reform agenda.

There are already ideas out there. For instance, Rep. John Sarbanes has a bill that would provide refundable tax credits for political contributions and give significant matching funds for small-dollar contributions in an attempt to amplify the voices of ordinary people who can only give a limited amount. That might not put the billionaires out of the politics business, but a candidate could use that idea or something like it to demonstrate his or her commitment to specific policy change, as opposed to just saying they wish the system were cleaner.

Clinton could be that candidate — though she hasn’t yet said anything specific about what she would change. But a Republican could as well. For the last couple of decades, presidential candidates have been saying they’ll change Washington by bringing Democrats and Republicans together to transcend partisanship, something no one believes anymore. But if (nearly) everyone thinks there’s too much money in the system and too much of it is unaccountable, there’s a political opportunity here. Will any candidate seize it?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, April 20, 2015

April 21, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Indiana And Federal Statutes Not Wholly Identical”: Three Factors That Make Indiana’s Religion Law Different From Other States’

The Indiana statute is the culmination of a long, murky legal history that reaches back to the 1990 Supreme Court case Employment Division v. Smith, which significantly changed the standard interpretation of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause. At issue was whether a Native American group could use peyote in religious rituals in violation of an Oregon law. The court ruled that it could not — because the state law was “neutral,” in that it was not motivated by a desire to curtail religious rights, and because it applied to everyone in the state.

Legal precedent prior to 1990 dictated that the government could substantially burden a person’s practice of his or her religion only if its action was necessary to achieve a compelling government purpose. But in Smith, the court established that the free exercise clause could not be used to challenge a neutral law of general applicability no matter how much the law burdened religion.

So, before Smith, a priest in a dry county who wanted to use wine in communion surely would have prevailed in court. After Smith, he would have lost because the law prohibiting consumption of alcohol was a neutral law of general applicability.

In 1993, Congress, with strong bipartisan support, passed and President Clinton signed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Its stated goal was to restore religious freedom by statute to what it previously had been under the Constitution. The law provides that whenever the government substantially burdens religion, even with a neutral law of general applicability, its action is illegal unless proven to be necessary to achieve a compelling government interest.

The next development came in 1997, when the Supreme Court declared the act unconstitutional as applied to state and local governments because it exceeded the scope of Congress’ power. But the law remained constitutional as applied to the federal government, and was the basis for the court’s decision last June in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, the court held, 5 to 4, that it violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to require a closely held corporation to provide contraceptive coverage if that contradicted its owners’ religious beliefs.

The new Indiana law has the same title and contains the same language as the federal statute. Like the federal law, the Indiana version provides: “A governmental entity may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if the governmental entity demonstrates that application of the burden to the person: (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

But the Indiana and federal statutes are not wholly identical. The Indiana law, unlike the federal RFRA, builds on Hobby Lobby by expressly providing protection to corporations and other business entities. That’s one reason to worry that the purpose of the Indiana law is to allow discrimination against same-sex couples based on business owners’ religious beliefs.

Another reason for concern is timing. Why is Indiana adopting the law now, 25 years after Employment Division v. Smith and 22 years after the enactment of the federal statute? There is a widespread consensus across the political spectrum that the Supreme Court is about to recognize a right to marriage equality for gays and lesbians and hold that state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the Constitution. This law appears to be a reaction to that development.

The rhetoric surrounding the Indiana law is also troubling. In fact, over and over in his interviews, Pence has refused to deny that the law would permit discrimination. He also was emphatic that there would be no expansion of rights for gays and lesbians on his “watch.”

This is why there are loud protests against the Indiana law and calls for boycotts of the state. But Indiana could easily solve this controversy by amending the law to provide that no one can discriminate against others based on sexual orientation, sex or race under the statute or on the grounds of religious beliefs.

 

By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, The Los Angeles Times; The National Memo, April 1, 2015

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Discrimination, Mike Pence, Religious Freedom Restoration Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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