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“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

“Crazier Than His Chronological Age”: Montana Judge’s Comments Show His Ignorance About Rape

Generally, the courts in Montana go about their business without much notice outside the state.

But after 29 years on the bench of the 13th District Court in Montana, Judge G. Todd Baugh has brought the national spotlight to Yellowstone County and is hearing calls from across the country for his ouster after he imposed a 30-day sentence in a rape case, and said the 14-year-old victim was “as much in control of the situation” as the high school teacher who ultimately pleaded guilty. The judge also described the teenager as “being older than her chronological age,” even though the age of consent in Montana is 16.

Perhaps the judge should have just used the words that too many rape victims have heard: “She was asking for it.”

In this case, though, the victim could not hear those words. She killed herself in February 2010.

Plenty of others have heard those words. Tens of thousands of people have put their names on online petitions calling for Baugh to step down. Protesters crowded the lawn of the courthouse Thursday, vowing to campaign against him if he seeks reelection in 2014.

The judge, for his part, has apologized for his comments but not for the sentence he imposed.

In a letter to the Billings Gazette, he wrote: “In the Rambold sentencing, I made references to the victim’s age and control. I’m not sure just what I was attempting to say, but it did not come out correct.

“What I said is demeaning of all women, not what I believe and irrelevant to the sentencing. My apologies to all my fellow citizens.”

The apology was rejected by many people, including the rape victim’s mother, Auliea Hanlon, who told the Associated Press: “He’s just covering his butt. He wouldn’t have said anything if people hadn’t spoken up. He didn’t reverse his decision, so it’s irrelevant.”

While  Baugh’s actions have sparked outrage, this is one of many instances of “pushback” that author Susan Brownmiller has seen since the publication of her groundbreaking book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” in 1975.

She emphasized that in the Montana case, the girl was 14, making her “incapable of giving an informed consent.”

“The consent laws are very clear about that,” Brownmiller said in a telephone interview. “A 14-year-old, by law, is not responsible.”

She added, “There are a lot of guys in positions of authority, like a judge, who really have no idea of what rape is.”

Other examples include former U.S. representative Todd Akin of Missouri, who lost a campaign for Senate after he said that women who are victims of what he called “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant, and Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who said in a campaign for the U.S. Senate: “Life is that gift from God that I think even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

At least some do understand what rape is and are speaking out, including Pete Taylor, a 51-year-old head waiter at a restaurant in Billings who attended the protest wearing a T-shirt on which he had written “14 is 14.”

 

By: Carla Baranauckas, She The People, The Washington Post, August 30, 2013

September 1, 2013 Posted by | Violence Against Women, War On Women | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Larger Terrifying Trend”: Nullification Must Never Be On The Table

About a week ago, Robert Schlesinger reported on a bill in Montana’s state legislature that would have “forbidden Big Sky law enforcement from enforcing any new assault weapons ban or ban on high capacity magazines,” even if such a law were passed by Congress. In effect, a majority of Montana state lawmakers said they want to be able to nullify a federal law they don’t like.

In this case, the Montana bill was largely pointless — a law that doesn’t exist can’t be rejected — and was vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock (D) anyway. But the effort was a reminder about a larger, rather terrifying trend: a growing number of state Republican policymakers consider nullification a legitimate use of state power.

For context, it’s worth remembering that there was a rather spirited debate in the mid-19th century over whether states could choose to ignore federal laws. The debate was resolved by a little something called the U.S. Civil War — those who argued in support of nullification lost.

And for the last several generations, that was that. But as Republican politics has grown increasingly radicalized in recent years, the discredited legal principle has started to move from the outer fringes of American life to state capitols. Consider this story out of Tennessee this week, for example.

The state House and Senate speakers have agreed to have a joint committee conduct hearings over the summer and fall on federal government laws and executive orders that may have exceeded constitutional authority, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, told colleagues Tuesday.

Beavers’ announcement came after declaring she would not push for passage of the “Balance of Powers Act” (SB1158), which would have set up a joint legislative committee to determine which federal laws should be nullified in Tennessee by the General Assembly.

Not to put too fine a point on this, but there’s nothing to discuss — state lawmakers can’t pick and choose which federal laws they’ll honor. But instead of realizing this basic tenet of modern American law, Tennessee will actually hold hearings on a concept that is, in the most literal sense, radical.

And it’s not just Tennessee.

As Schlesinger noted in his report, some states are looking to nullify gun laws that don’t yet exist; West Virginia is thinking about nullifying federal regulations on coal mining; and Mississippi, like Tennessee, is eyeing the creation of a nullification committee to pare down federal laws the state doesn’t like.

Let’s also not forget that in North Carolina, there’s pending legislation that says the First Amendment doesn’t apply to the state, federal courts can’t determine what’s constitutional under the U.S. Constitution, and North Carolina has the right to declare its own state religion.

If we broaden the context a bit, we can even look at the anti-abortion measures recently approved in North Dakota and Arkansas. Lawmakers were well aware of the fact that these bills are unconstitutional under existing Supreme Court precedent, but they decided it didn’t matter.

It’s my sincere hope that this is just a bizarre fad among radicalized Republicans, and to borrow a phrase, the “fever” gripping GOP politics will soon fade without incident. Chances are, cooler heads will prevail and these various nullification efforts will fade away, left to become a punch-line among future historians marveling at the far-right hysteria of the Obama era.

But I’d lying if I said this isn’t disconcerting and more than a little alarming.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 4, 2013

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Federal Government, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Elections For Sale”: Supreme Court Reaffirms That The Robber Barons Are In Charge

The US Supreme Court may still retain some familiarity with the Constitution when it comes to deciding the nuances of cases involving immigration policy and lifetime incarceration. But when it comes to handing off control of American democracy to corporations, the Court continues to reject the intents of the founders and more than a century of case law to assure that CEOs are in charge.

Make no mistake, this is not a “free speech” or “freedom of association” stance by the Court’s Republican majority. That majority is narrowing the range of debate. It is picking winners. To turn a phrase from the old union song, this Court majority has decided which side it is on.

The same Court that in January 2010 ruled with the Citizens United decision that corporations can spend freely in federal elections—enjoying the same avenues of expression as human beings—on Monday ruled that states no longer have the ability to guard against what historically has been seen as political corruption and the buying of elections.

The court’s 5–4 decision in the Montana case of American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock significantly expands the scope and reach of the Citizens United ruling by striking down state limits on corporate spending in state and local elections. “The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the majority wrote. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.”

Translation: if Exxon Mobil wants to spend $10 million to support a favored candidate in a state legislative or city council race that might decide whether the corporation is regulated, or whether it gets new drilling rights, it can. But why stop at $10 million? If it costs $100 million to shout down the opposition, the Court says that is fine. If if costs $1 billion, that’s fine, too.

And what of the opposition. Can groups that represent the public interest push back? Can labor unions take a stand in favor of taxing corporations like Exxon Mobil?

Not with the same freedom or flexibility that they had from the 1930s until this year. Last Thursday, the Court erected elaborate new barriers to participation in elections by public-sector unions—requiring that they get affirmative approval from members before making special dues assessments to fund campaigns countering corporations.

How might it work? If Walmart wanted to support candidates who promised to eliminate all taxes for Walmart, the corporation could spend unlimited amounts of money. It would not need to gain stockholder approval. It can just go for it.

But if AFSCME wants to counter Walmart argument, saying that eliminating taxes on out-of-state retailers will save consumers very little but will ultimate undermine funding for schools and public services, the union will have to go through the laborious process of gaining permission from tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of members. And even then, it will face additional reporting and structural barriers imposed by the Court.

Campaign finance reformers had held out some hope that states might be able to apply some restrictions on corporate spending, as Montana did with its 100-year-old law barring direct corporate contributions to political parties and candidates. That law, developed to control against the outright buying of elections by “copper kings” and “robber barons,” was repeatedly upheld. Until now.

Now, says Marc Elias, one of the nation’s top experts in election law, “To the extent that there was any doubt from the original Citizens United decision [that it] broadly applies to state and local laws, that doubt is now gone.… To whatever extent that door was open a crack, that door is now closed.”

There may still be a few legislative avenues left for countering the “money power” of the new “copper kings” and “robber barons.” But they are rapidly being closed off by a partisan high court majority.

That’s why US Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has emerged as a leading proponent of moves to amend the US Constitution to restore the rule of law in elections, says: “The U.S. Supreme Court’s absurd 5-4 ruling two years ago in Citizens United was a major blow to American democratic traditions. Sadly, despite all of the evidence that Americans see every day, the court continues to believe that its decision makes sense.”

When billionaires can “spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy this election for candidates who support the super-wealthy,” argues Sanders, “this is not democracy. This is plutocracy. And that is why we must overturn Citizens United if we are serious about maintaining the foundations of American democracy.”

Sanders says he will step up his efforts to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but the democratically disastrous rulings that extend from it.

“In his famous speech at Gettysburg during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln talked about America as a country ‘of the people, by the people and for the people.’ Today, as a result of the Supreme Court’s refusal to reconsider its decision in Citizens United, we are rapidly moving toward a nation of the super-rich, by the super-rich and for the super-rich,” explains Sanders. “That is not what America is supposed to be about. This Supreme Court decision must be overturned.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, June 25, 2012

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Horribly Misguided”: Supreme Court Again Smacks Down Campaign-Finance Reformers

The Supreme Court’s rejection of a long-shot legal challenge to let states bar corporate and union political contributions in their own elections underscores the legal quandary in which many left-of-center campaign finance reformers find themselves.

The court, in a 5-to-4 vote split along ideological lines, refused on Monday to strike down a Montana ban on corporate political spending. The decision effectively upholds its landmark 2010 decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations and unions were entitled to the same free speech protections as citizens, or at least allow state law to supersede it.

Because the Supreme Court decided Citizens United only two years ago and its conservative majority remains intact, few legal experts expected it to rule in favor of the challenge.

The current case, American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, stemmed from a century-old Montana law that prohibits corporations from spending money on political campaigns. The effort, joined by more than 20 states, stipulated states should be allowed to carve out their own rules to regulate political fundraising and spending, an argument backed by the Montana Supreme Court when it ruled in favor of the state law last year.

But the Supreme Court, in a one-page per curiam opinion that shut the door on the possibility of oral arguments, curtly dismissed the notion that federal law didn’t apply.

The Citizens United decision, combined with other court cases and FEC rulings, has dramatically loosened fundraising and spending regulations for independent political organizations, which have proliferated since 2010 and become a major force in campaigns. Effort to curb the spending through the judiciary have thus far proven fruitless; Paul Ryan, senior counsel to the Campaign Legal Center, a left-of-center interest group, called the ruling “disappointing but predictable.”

“Unfortunately the only surprise would have been if the Supreme Court had taken the opportunity to revisit its horribly misguided decision in Citizens United,” Ryan said. “Clearly, the Supreme Court has decided to wash its hands of the disastrous results of its earlier decision. Apparently the same five Justices who gave us Citizens United are not troubled by the fact that special interests are picking the winners and losers in our federal and state elections.”

In a dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer agreed. He reiterated his existing objection to the Citizens United decision, arguing that the proliferation of political spending amounted to a quid pro arrangement between politicians and political spenders. He also backed the state’s right to decide on its own whether corporate spending constituted to a corrupting influence, the threshold conservative justices have argued laws must pass to be constitutional.

“Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,” Breyer wrote.

But even as the liberal justice signaled he would like to reconsider Citizens United, he acknowledged the court’s unchanging conservative majority means he doubts there is a “significant possibility” the court will reverse itself — something that left conservatives pleased.

“This closes the door on the argument that unique facts in a certain state can be employed to overturn [Citizens United],” said Jim Bopp, an Indiana campaign finance attorney who has spearheaded an array of challenges to campaign finance laws across the country. “Further, it means that independent expenditures are never corrupting as a matter of federal constitutional law.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime advocate for loosening campaign finance regulations, hailed it as “another important victory for freedom of speech.”

“Clearly, the much predicted corporate tsunami that critics of Citizens United warned about simply did not occur,” he said in a statement.

 

By: Alex Roarty, The Atlantic, June 25, 2012

June 26, 2012 Posted by | Campaign Financing | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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