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“Virginia’s Struggle With Guns”: Taking A Stand On Gun Control To Dismay Of Gun-Rights Activists And Conservatives

Virginia is going through some soul searching on gun control although it is not necessarily related to the wave of mass shootings plaguing the country.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham is considering trying to revive “Project Exile,” which tapped considerable federal law enforcement resources back in 1997 to combat the city’s then-extraordinary murder rate. Richmond recently has seen a big spike in inner-city shootings.

In a separate initiative, Attorney Gen. Mark Herring (D) is ending reciprocal concealed-carry privileges with 25 states.

Herring’s move, which would start in February, is the less-impactful of the two ideas. It is largely symbolic and is designed to show that Virginia is taking a stand on gun control to the dismay of gun-rights activists and conservative legislators.

Durham’s idea has a lot of merit. This past weekend, Richmond saw five shootings and three deaths. They were garden-variety incidents that involved petty arguments and the like. In one, two young men allegedly started shooting it out and a 12-year-old girl was hit and killed.

At a press conference Monday, Durham suggested a return to “Project Exile,” which successfully stemmed Richmond’s 1997 murder rate that, per capita, became among the highest in the country. That year, the city saw 140 murders, 122 of them gun-related. So, city and state leaders asked federal authorities to step in and help prosecute those who use firearms in crimes.

According to the terms of Project Exile, anyone charged with using a gun in a crime would go into the tougher federal court system instead of being tried locally. He would face immediate federal prosecution and, if convicted, go to prison for five years in addition to any other incarceration time.

Another part of the project involved mass media. To get the message out and try to get pistol-packing hotheads and would-be armed robbers to think twice, authorities rented billboard space and took out other ad spots.

The result? Three hundred and seventy two people were indicted for federal gun violations, 440 illegal guns were seized, 247 people were convicted and 196 convicts served about 4.5 years in prison. After one year, Richmond homicides declined 33 percent and armed robberies went down 30 percent. The next year, were down 21 percent.

Over the next several years, the homicide rate dropped even more, but that also had to do with the changing demographics of shooters. Those most likely to be involved in gunfights or assaults either were killed or got older.

Project Exile had its critics. Some gun rights people called it Project Gestapo. But it did not do anything to limit access to gun ownership. It just took tough steps if someone used guns illegally.

Herring’s move likewise is drawing plenty of criticism. Some claim it will hurt Old Dominion tourism if out-of-staters can no longer pack heat on vacation. The argument is hard to follow. Hikers can’t carry firearms anyway in some federal parks. A gun fan also would look rather ridiculous frolicking in the surf at Virginia Beach while wearing a shoulder holster under a T-shirt.


By: Peter Galuszka, Opinions Page, The Washington Post, December 23, 2015

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Alfred Durham, Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Mark Herring | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Laws For Thee, But Not For Me”: Kentucky’s Kim Davis Jailed, Held In Contempt

Federal judges really don’t like it when people ignore court orders and claim the law doesn’t apply to them.

A federal judge has ordered a Kentucky clerk to jail after she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, was found in contempt of court on Thursday morning…. Davis, in tears, said on the stand that she could not comply with the judge’s order. U.S. Marshals later took her into custody.

As she was being led out of the courtroom, the clerk said, “Thank you, judge.”

Davis, if you’re just joining us, is paid by taxpayers to issue marriage licenses, but she refuses to provide licenses to couples she finds morally objectionable, citing “God’s authority.” Davis and her lawyers have filed several appeals, all of which lost.

She could, of course, find some other job – one that doesn’t pit her professional responsibilities against her spiritual beliefs – but she refuses to do so. As we talked about yesterday, Davis feels entitled to keep her job and refuse to do her job at the same time.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning, appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, apparently didn’t find this persuasive.

Just so news consumers are clear, if you hear that Davis was jailed for her opposition to marriage equality, this is incorrect. She was taken into custody because she deliberately, brazenly ignored a court order. Davis was bound, not only to perform her official duties, but also to follow the law. She refused and is now in contempt of court.

Marriage-equality proponents did not ask the judge in the case to take her into custody, but by some measures, Judge Bunning didn’t have much of a choice.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | Kim Davis, Law and Order, Marriage Equality | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Jurisdiction-Stripping”: Roy “Ten Commandments” Moore Is Back With His Constitution-Defying Tricks

Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, best known for his flouting of the Establishment Clause for refusing, in 2003, to remove a 2.6 ton Ten Commandments monument from the Supreme Court building, is now questioning the jurisdiction of federal courts to decide the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

After Moore was removed from the bench in that same year, he ran for governor several times and flirted with running for president. He won reelection to the Alabama high court in 2012.

Writing to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today, Moore complains that last week’s federal court ruling striking down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage “has raised serious, legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.” In the letter, Moore warns that local clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be “in defiance of the laws and Constitution of Alabama.”

Moore is attempting to argue for jurisdiction-stripping, a maneuver to deprive a federal court (despite what is required in the Constitution itself) of the ability to decide questions of federal Constitutional law. Moore, of course, cannot do this unilaterally; like his Ten Commandments stunt, he would be in defiance of the federal Constitution with his antics. All his efforts, and all his appeals to religion, can’t change the simple fact that under the Constitution, federal courts, not state courts, decide matters of federal constitutional law.

But Moore believes the Bible trumps the Constitution (or at least his version of the Bible). As Julie Ingersoll has observed, “Moore’s underlying philosophy of law is that only God and the Bible can be the source of moral authority.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that Moore has attempted (utterly unsuccessfully, I might add) to shut down a federal court’s constitutionally-granted jurisdiction and authority over constitutional matters, as I noted in 2011:

After Moore was stripped of his judgeship for defying a federal court order to remove his monument, [his lawyer, Herb] Titus drafted the Constitution Restoration Act, which would have deprived federal courts of jurisdiction in cases challenging a government entity’s or official’s “acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government.” The bill, which did not pass, nonetheless had nine Senate co-sponsors and 50 House co-sponsors; including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal, now the governor of Louisiana, Nathan Deal, now the governor of Georgia, and Mike Pence, a conservative hero who’s now running for governor of Indiana.

Moore argues in his letter to Bentley today that “The laws of this state have always recognized the Biblical admonition stated by our Lord,” citing Mark 10:6-9 (“But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female. . . What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”)

When others, like Mike Huckabee, speak loosely of the Supreme Court lacking the authority to decide whether same-sex marriage bans violate the Constitution, it stems from the ideology of Moore and his ilk: that despite what the Constitution says, the Bible comes first. Something tells me, though, Moore’s new stunt won’t fare much better than his last.


By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, January 27, 2015

February 1, 2015 Posted by | Marriage Equality, Roy Moore, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Justice Denied”: Federal Judge Faces No Punishment Following Racially Charged Remarks

Last year, Judge Edith H. Jones of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals spoke to a conservative legal group and made a series of controversial remarks about race. There is no official transcript or recording, but affidavits from attendees pointed to deeply problematic language, especially from a sitting federal judge.

According to an ethics complaint, Jones, a Reagan appointee, told the audience that “racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are predisposed to crime.” A veteran attorney who was in the room said 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.” She was also accused of having said defenses often used in capital cases, including mental retardation and systemic racism, are “red herrings.”

An investigation ensued, but the Associated Press reported yesterday that a panel of judges dismissed the misconduct complaint.

“It appears likely that Judge Jones did suggest that, statistically, African-Americans and/or Hispanics are ‘disproportionately’ involved in certain crimes and ‘disproportionately’ present in federal prisons,” said the panel.

“But we must consider Judge Jones’ comments in the context of her express clarifications during the question-and-answer period that she did not mean that certain groups are ‘prone to commit’ such crimes,” the panel of judges said.

“In that context, whether or not her statistical statements are accurate, or accurate only with caveats, they do not by themselves indicate racial bias or an inability to be impartial,” said the panel. “They resemble other albeit substantially more qualified, statements prominent in contemporary debate regarding the fairness of the justice system.”

One wonders if Americans from minority communities, whose legal fate rests in Jones’ hands, would have comparable confidence in the conservative judge’s impartiality.

My colleague Kate Osborn noted yesterday that one of the lawyers who filed the original complaint wasn’t impressed with the investigation, and is pushing the process forward. From a press statement:

The D.C. Circuit judges who dismissed the initial complaint this August repeatedly relied on Judge Jones’ own version of the facts about her Penn Law speech – in spite of conflicting sworn testimony from six people – five of whom were law students – who attended the lecture. The judges allowed Judge Jones to testify but did not allow those who filed the complaint or attended the lecture to do the same. The judges also received documents and other secret evidence that they and Judge Jones refused to disclose to complainants.

“Just as concerning as these instances of bias, the one-sidedness and secrecy surrounding the ethics complaint process and the untoward deference to the judge’s denials makes it unlikely that any claims of judicial misbehavior can be handled in a way that gives the public confidence that justice is being served,” said Luis Roberto Vera, Jr., national general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens, another party to the appeal.

An appeal has been filed with the Judicial Conference of the United States, requesting its Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability revisit the complaint.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 16, 2014

October 17, 2014 Posted by | Edith H. Jones, Federal Judiciary | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Breadth Of His Behavior”: Federal Judge Sent Hundreds Of Racist Messages

Last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Richard Cebull, an appointee of George W. Bush, was caught sending a racist email about President Obama from his courthouse chambers. At the time, Cebull, Montana’s chief federal judge for nearly five years, defended himself by saying the message “was not intended by me in any way to become public.”

It wasn’t long before the Judicial Council of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opened a misconduct review, and on Friday, we learned that Cebull kept awfully busy disseminating offensive messages to his personal and professional contacts. The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

A former Montana judge who was investigated for forwarding a racist email involving President Barack Obama sent hundreds of other inappropriate messages from his federal email account, according to the findings of a judicial review panel released Friday.

Former U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull sent emails to personal and professional contacts that showed disdain for blacks, Indians, Hispanics, women, certain religious faiths, liberal political leaders, and some emails contained inappropriate jokes about sexual orientation, the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found.

Many of the emails also related to pending issues that could have come before Cebull’s court, such as immigration, gun control, civil rights, health care and environmental issues, the council found in its March 15, 2013, order.

In case it’s not obvious, it’s critically important for federal judges to maintain a sense of credibility and impartiality. Once a jurist is exposed as a bigot, he or she can no longer expect to rule from the bench.

In Cebull’s case, the 9th Circuit was not lenient.

The panel issued a public reprimand, instructed that the judge receive no new cases for 180 days, ordered him to complete  new round of judicial training, and told the judge he must issue an apology that acknowledged “the breadth of his behavior.”

Judicial impeachment was ruled out because he was not found to have violated any state or federal laws.

All of this, however, happened 10 months ago. Why didn’t we hear anything until now? Because Cebull resigned the same month as he received the judicial council’s report, making the sanctions moot.

That said, Judge Theodore McKee, the chief judge of the 3rd U.S. Circuit, petitioned the panel, arguing that the judicial council’s work should be made public. The committee agreed.

“The imperative of transparency of the complaint process compels publication of orders finding judicial misconduct,” the national judicial panel wrote in its decision.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 20, 2014

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Bigotry, Federal Judiciary, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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