Rights

GOP rep calls for 'stronger laws at state level' to stop women from leaving Indiana to access abortion care

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) is expressing interest in supporting a piece of legislation that would prohibit women from leaving the state to receive abortion treatment.

During a recent appearance on "The Pat Miller Show," Banks floated desire for stricter federal regulations to further restrict access to abortion care.

At one point during the discussion, Miller offered an example of a scenario where women could circumvent laws in one state by traveling to another state to have the procedure done.

READ MORE: 'It makes the hill harder to climb': Distress signals already emerging within GOP over sticking with Trump

"Our work as a pro-life movement is far from over," Miller said. "If a young lady can hop in a car in Fort Wayne and in an hour and a half she can be in a place in Michigan or in just under 3 hours, she could cross the line into Illinois and achieve what she was able to do with abortion clinics here in Indiana. The fight is far from over."

Then, Banks weighed in with his opinion as he expressed support for more laws. According to Banks, the move would be one to "save lives" and "protect babies."

"That's exactly right," Banks said, adding, "And I'm for federal legislation, for stronger laws at the state levels. Whatever we can do to save lives, to protect babies. That's what this fight is all about."

READ MORE: Billionaire Gov. Jim Justice is West Virginia’s richest man. He's been sued dozens of times for millions in unpaid bills

Watch the video below or at this link.

READ MORE: Donald Trump Jr. says Nancy Pelosi was 'preaching violence' because she wanted to 'punch out' his dad

How Biden is bringing aggressive legal muscle to the reproductive freedom battle: attorney

Abortion proved to be a strong issue for Democrats in the 2022 midterms, helping them win statewide gubernatorial and/or U.S. races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and other swing states. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania were among the Democrats who campaigned on abortion rights in 2022 and won.

For the Biden Administration, one of the big takeaways of 2022 is that reproductive rights are important to Democratic voters, swing voters and even some Republican voters. In deep red Kansas, centrist pro-choice Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly was reelected; that victory came three months after Kansas voters rejected an anti-abortion measure by 18 percent.

In an article published by The Nation on January 5, liberal/progressive attorney Elie Mystal offers legal analysis of the Biden Administration’s efforts in favor of reproductive rights. And Mystal, who is often featured as a legal expert on MSNBC, argues that Biden and his allies are being quite proactive when it comes to making abortion pills easier to obtain.

READ MORE:With Roe overturned, Clarence Thomas is now preparing for a full-frontal assault on contraception, gay rights

“The Biden Administration has finally taken steps to make abortion pills at least as accessible as erectile dysfunction pills,” Mystal explains. “All it took was the Supreme Court’s revocation of an established constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history — in the form of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health — and the culmination of the Republicans’ decades-long war on reproductive freedom to get them to do what Democrats should have done years ago. This week, the Food & Drug Administration made a small legal change in its classification of the drug mifepristone, and the Department of Justice confirmed that the drug can be sent through the mail.”

Mystal adds, “Mifepristone is a drug that can be used for the treatment of high blood sugar, but it can also be used off-label to inhibit the hormone progesterone, which is necessary for maintaining pregnancies. Along with another drug, misoprostol, which causes contractions, it can be used to medically induce abortions. The mifepristone-misoprostol combination is already used in over half of abortions performed in the United States, with demand only increasing since the Supreme Court adopted Christian fundamentalist theory crafting and revoked the right to abortion last June.”

The attorney notes, however, that in “forced-birth states,” the “bans targeting abortion providers also prohibit the use of abortion drugs like mifepristone.” And Mystal warns that far-right extremists who have a history of “intimidating, stalking, and murdering abortion providers” angrily oppose the use of “abortion drugs.”

“Part of the agreement with the drug’s manufacturers includes pharmacies’ not publishing the names of doctors who prescribe the medication to protect those doctors’ safety,” Mystal observes. “But that also means that pharmacies cannot list the names of prescribing doctors in their nationwide databases, which they commonly do. And that doesn’t even get into the threats that these companies might face if they provide the medication, including in states where it is legal. It’s therefore likely that smaller, local pharmacies will be the early adopters of these new rules. This is where the new DOJ rule might be particularly helpful: It could make it easier to get abortion drugs from local pharmacies to people in states that deny reproductive rights.”

READ MORE: The abortion pill, abortion bans and Republican policies that kill

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its Dobbs ruling in 2022, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the Court should also “reconsider” Griswold v. Connecticut — a 1965 ruling that struck down a Connecticut ban on contraception for married couples and, by extension, similar laws all over the U.S. The language of the Warren Court in Griswold was employed by the Burger Court eight years later in Roe.

Griswold, according to Mystal, “defanged” the notorious Comstock Act of 1873.

“The Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo at the request of the DOJ saying that shipping abortion medication through the mail is legal, even after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs,” Mystal explains. “The memo related to a provision of the Comstock Act that prohibits the mailing of any ‘article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use’…. The Comstock Act was once used to prevent the distribution of birth control pills, but it was defanged by the Supreme Court case that recognized a right to privacy and a right to contraception: Griswold v. Connecticut.”

Mystal adds, “Roe v. Wade flowed from the Court’s decision in Griswold, and with Roe gone, there was some confusion as to whether the Comstock Act could once again prevent the distribution of reproductive medication through the mail. But the OLC memo says the Comstock Act can’t be used to punish a person who sends abortion medication through the mail ‘where the sender lacks the intent that the recipient of the drugs will use them unlawfully.’ That means that I, or a doctor, could send mifepristone to anyone, in any state, on the assumption that they would use the drug in compliance with whatever state laws apply to their jurisdiction. That’s a big deal, because many state abortion bans seek to punish the providers of reproductive services as well as the individuals of conscience who help people obtain reproductive services.”

READ MORE: Columnist details how House Republicans plan to escalate their anti-abortion 'agenda'

How one 'damning question' from Ketanji Brown Jackson 'might save the day' on voting rights: legal expert

On Wednesday, December 7, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the case Moore v. Harper — which deals with partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and a far-right legal idea known as the independent state legislature (ISL) theory. The ISL, in its most extreme version, argues that only state legislatures should have any say in how elections are governed in individual states — not governors, not judges, not state supreme courts.

Critics of the ISL have been stressing that totally removing a state’s executive and judicial branches from the equation is anti-checks and balances and anti-democracy. It remains to be seen how the High Court will ultimately rule in Moore v. Harper, but legal writer Joe Patrice, in an article published by Above the Law on December 7, stresses that some of the best questioning during the oral arguments came from President Joe Biden’s appointee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“Going into this morning’s oral argument on Moore v. Harper,” Patrice explains, “it didn’t really seem like free and fair democratic elections had much of a future in this country. If one were so inclined, the smart money said the Supreme Court would functionally cancel democratic elections…. Across hours of oral argument, Justice Jackson asked the most succinct and ultimately damning question that might save the day. Or at least minimize the impact.”

READ MORE:Former DHS official tears apart a crackpot legal theory that could 'have catastrophic effects for democracy'

During the oral arguments, Jackson obviously had a problem with the idea of excluding a state’s executive and judicial branches from governing elections.

The Biden appointee told her colleagues, “I guess I don’t understand how you can cut the state constitution out of the equation when it is giving the state legislature authority to exercise the legislative power.”

With that comment, Patrice argues, Jackson showed just how “absurd” the ISL is.

“She actually asked this question in different phrasings a few times, but it’s really the only question anyone needs to answer,” Patrice explains. “If state constitutions create state legislatures, then how can state legislatures violate state constitutions? It ceases to be a constitutionally ordained legislature at that point!”

READ MORE: How a pending Supreme Court case could determine whether US democracy 'lives or dies': legal expert

Patrice continues, “It’s a chicken and egg problem — except it’s more like which came first, the chicken or my dinner tonight — with a single obvious answer. If the state constitution sets guardrails of voting rights and the proper deference required to courts and the executive, then the legislature can only work within that. The GOP argued that, because the word ‘Legislature’ is in the U.S. Constitution, it elevates state legislatures above the constraints of their own state laws for this purpose, but no one — original or otherwise — ever entertained that idea. Indeed, it would be absurd to think the Framers, at the time, intended to dictate to the states how their governments should function. ‘Legislature’ is whatever the state chooses to create with all the checks and balances attendant to its own laws — just like it’s been for over 200 years.”

Patrice also praised attorney Neal Katyal, who gave the High Court justices aggressive oral arguments against the ISL.

“At the top of Katyal’s argument,” Patrice notes, “he cited the two centuries of election law and declared that it would be ‘a whole lot of wrong’ if ‘Legislature’ meant what the GOP asked for as opposed to how Justice Jackson posed her question…. Make no mistake, Chief Justice Roberts is on record buying into a watered-down version of this theory and will, after today’s battering, probably cobble something together that shields Republican legislatures without straining the outer bounds of basic notions of constitutional governance.”

Patrice adds, “But whatever compromise the conservatives try to mold will remain haunted by Jackson’s straightforward question. Which came first, the state constitution or the state legislature? It’s the constitution. It’s always going to be the constitution.”

READ MORE: 'Nightmare scenario' if Supreme Court approves 'oddball' conservative election changes: analyst

Republicans are giddy about 'owning the libs.' The citizens they govern pay a tragic price

If dying young appeals to you, here's a simple bit of advice: move to a state or county controlled by Republicans.

At first glance, the images below appear to be political maps. And in the most real sense of the word they are: the county-by-county differences shown by the map from Jeremy Ney's brilliant American Inequality Substack newsletter and the state-by-state screen shot from the CDC's NCHS below it.

Both reflect, in large part, decades of regional policy differences.

Long-lived parts of America have generally embraced progressive policies dating back to FDR's New Deal; the early-death parts of our country most often reflect conservative opposition to everything from the working-class wealth that unionization and higher minimum wages bring, to the availability of healthcare through Medicaid expansion.


https://substackcdn.com/image/fetch/w_1456,c_limit,f_webp,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fbucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2Feb553faf-565e-477b-948f-f746b7480c81_1240x1042.png
Source: American Inequality by Jeremy Ney on Substack

2019 Life Expectancy by State — Source: National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control

To zoom out ever farther, since many conservative policies affect the entire country, consider what happened to the health of our nation in the 1980s with the Reagan Revolution. It's particularly visible when you compare the outcomes of our healthcare system with other developed countries.

Our World In Data lays it out starkly, as you will see below. One of the proudest accomplishments of the neoliberal Reagan Revolution was—following a bill Nixon signed in 1973 that opened the door—overturning laws in state-after-state that required both hospitals and health insurance companies to run as non-profits.

Reagan also, in 1983, ordered the DOJ, FTC, and SEC to essentially stop enforcing anti-trust laws dating back to the 1891 Sherman Act, resulting in the "Mergers & Acquisitions Mania" that characterized the 1980s and inspired the "greed is good" movie Wall Street starring Michael Douglas.

Health insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturers all morphed from regional and competitive organizations into giant, monopolistic predators.

Their profits exploded and our lifespans collapsed. Every year now, they spread hundreds of millions of dollars around Washington DC and state capitols to prevent regulation and maintain the status quo.

We are, quite literally, the only country in the world with a corrupt Supreme Court that has legalized this kind of a vicious attack on its citizens by a bought-off political party and their morbidly rich donors.

The Republicans on the Supreme Court call it "free speech" but every other nation in the world knows it's simply naked, criminal, political bribery.


Le vs health exp 2020 version
Source: Our World in Data

As you can see above, the average American spends more than twice as much on healthcare every year as do the citizens of any other developed country in the world. And, as the Reagan Revolution really bit hard in the 1980s and 1990s, our average lifespans collapsed while corporate healthcare profits exploded.

And it's not just death by lack of healthcare that skews these statistics: if you're concerned about being murdered, it's also a good idea to avoid states run by conservatives. As the centrist Third Way think tank noted last month:

  • "In 2020, per capita murder rates were 40% higher in states won by Donald Trump than those won by Joe Biden.
  • "8 of the 10 states with the highest murder rates in 2020 voted for the Republican presidential nominee in every election this century."

It's true of Red cities as well. Again, from Third Way:

"For example, Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat [sic] mayor, despite their comparable populations.
"In fact, the homicide rate in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco was half that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy's Bakersfield, a city with a Republican mayor that overwhelmingly voted for Trump."

And don't even think about having sex in Red states: they generally lead America in sexually transmitted diseases, presumably because most have outlawed teaching sex education in their public schools.

The five states with the highest rates of Chlamydia infections are Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and New Mexico. The highest rates of Gonorrhea are in Mississippi, Alaska, South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana.

Speaking of schools, the states with the lowest educational attainment in the nation are entirely Red states. Ranked from terrible to absolutely worst, they are: Idaho, Indiana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Nevada, Louisiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

As giddy as Republicans are about "owning the libs," the citizens they govern pay a tragic price for the sport. They are literally dying as conservative politicians revel in their ability to cut taxes for the rich and suppress wages and healthcare for everybody else.

Republicans are about to take over the House of Representatives and begin their "investigations" into, well, anything that will distract from these terrible statistics. In the meantime, Americans, particularly those in Red states and counties, will continue to die at rates considered obscene by the standards of every other developed nation in the world.

Our next chance to put America back on track will be in two years, and we damn well better get ready.

'Going on the offense': How Gavin Newsom is taking the abortion fight to other states

When the U.S. Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022 with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a national standard for the legality or illegality of abortion was removed — and abortion became a series of legislative battles in 50 different states. Abortion became illegal or greatly restricted in a long list of red states, while blue states moved to codify their protections of abortion rights. And in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona and Virginia, abortion’s legal status could go either way — as Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from incumbent Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan to Josh Shapiro in Pennsylvania, have been emphasizing.

In deep blue California, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has been aggressively promoting Proposition 1 — a ballot measure that, journalist Christopher Cadelago notes in Politico, “would enshrine the right to abortion and contraceptives in the state constitution.” Newsom, according to Cadelago, is “spending $2.5 million over the next two weeks” to promote the measure, which will appear on the California ballot in November.

Newsom told Politico, “The idea that we are proactively codifying statute — that we are going on the offense — is something from my perspective to celebrate and to highlight and not just dial-in and take for granted.”

READ MORE:Anti-abortion 'hardliner' Herschel Walker 'flatly' denies he paid for an abortion as son defends report

Cadelago, in an article published by Politico on October 10, stresses that Newsom isn’t just focusing on abortion rights in California — he is taking the abortion fight to other states as well, including some states where Democrats have been struggling in statewide races: Florida and Texas.

“The governor paid for out-of-state TV ads and billboards as part of his attempts to bracket and shame his Republican counterparts in Florida and Texas,” Cadelago reports. “And he signed a sweeping wish list of liberal priorities in his state and wants lawmakers to return before year’s end for a special session to consider windfall taxes on oil companies.”

In Austin, Texas, Newsom paid for a billboard that reads, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help."

Austin is an ideal place for that billboard, as Austin is a deep blue city in a light red state. Although Texas on the whole leans Republican, its large urban centers — including Austin, Houston, El Paso and Dallas — are Democratic strongholds. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Texas’ 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is popular in Urban Texas but is struggling in rural areas and has been trailing incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott by single digits in polls.

READ MORE: 'A common middle ground': These Michigan Republicans are campaigning for Gretchen Whitmer — here’s why

Journalist Landon Mion, reporting for Fox News’ website on October 10, observes, “The billboard campaign is the latest Newsom advertising in Texas pushing his state's access to abortion. The California governor had ads placed in three Texas newspapers in July in which he criticized Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott for his stance on abortion and guns. The newspaper ads feature a modified quote from Abbott about Senate Bill 8, which prohibits abortion in the Lone Star State after six weeks of pregnancy.”

Politico’s Cadelago notes that “after beating back last year’s recall attempt, he’s sitting on more than $23 million to spend on Democratic candidates and causes.”

“While California’s abortion measure is leading in public polls,” Cadelago observes, “Newsom contends the ad money was necessary. He pointed to concerns among some Democrats and pundits that voter enthusiasm following the High Court’s Dobbs decision may already be waning and that he doesn’t want the party’s voters to leave anything to chance.”

Newsom told Politico, “The better we do on this, the more intensity, the more we dial it up, I also think it sends a message that reverberates across our borders. If a significant majority come out and vote for Prop. 1, it sends a message to states that didn’t do anything this year — ‘Why didn’t you? Where were you?’ — and to take this moment seriously and get ahead of the next round of Supreme Court decisions. Let’s dust off any timidity here and apathy and take seriously the world we’re living in.”

READ MORE: Doug Mastriano argues women who violate the proposed abortion ban should face murder charges

South Carolina judge rules that executions by electric chair and firing squad are unconstitutional

Although most developed nations have long since abolished the death penalty — from Australia to Uruguay to Sweden to Italy — the United States continues to allow executions. The legality of the death penalty in the U.S., however, varies from state to state. While California, for example, has had a moratorium on the death penalty since 2019, red states are much more likely to allow capitol punishment. But deep red South Carolina continues to grapple with execution methods.

On Tuesday, September 6, Judge Jocelyn Newman ruled that two execution methods — the electric chair and firing squads — are inconsistent with the state’s constitution. And Newman has permanently barred the South Carolina Department of Corrections from executing four Death Row inmates using either method.

Newman’s ruling doesn’t mean that the inmates cannot be executed in South Carolina, only that they cannot be killed by electrocution or a firing squad.

READ MORE:Right-wingers are absolutely gushing over South Carolina's firing squad executions

The judge wrote, “In 2021, South Carolina turned back the clock and became the only state in the country in which a person may be forced into the electric chair if he refuses to elect how he will die. In doing so, the General Assembly ignored advances in scientific research and evolving standards of humanity and decency.”

The Greenville News’ Kathryn Casteel reports, “An appeal to the decision is expected, which would take the matter to the (South Carolina) State Supreme Court.”

The United States has had a variety of execution methods over the years, including hanging, the gas chamber, the electric chair and firing squads. But some of the execution methods that were commonly used in parts of Europe in the past — such as the guillotine in France or the garrot in Spain — never caught on in the U.S.

In 2022, the most common execution method in states that allow the death penalty is lethal injection.

READ MORE: Nancy Pelosi cites the death penalty in push back against San Francisco archbishop who denied her communion over abortion rights

How GOP candidates are 'feeling the pressure' navigating abortion in the post-Roe era: conservative

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, far-right Republicans in red states wasted no time pushing for abortion bans. But in swing states, countless Democratic candidates have been aggressively campaigning on abortion rights — and using the issue to tar and feather their GOP opponents. It isn’t uncommon for Democrats, during the 2022 midterms, to run scathing attack ads pointing out that a Republican candidate opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

In a listicle published by the conservative website The Bulwark on August 30, journalist Jim Swift lays out three ways in which GOP midterm candidates are handling the abortion issue in a post-Roe political environment. And they include: (1) “The Blake Masters Path: De-emphasize abortion,” (2) “The Tudor Dixon Path: Full steam ahead, no exceptions,” and (3) “The ‘I get it, now’ path.”

In Arizona’s 2022 U.S. Senate race, the Republican nominee is Blake Masters — a far-right MAGA conspiracy theorist who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and is up against centrist incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. Masters, in the past, was a strident opponent of abortion. But as Swift emphasizes, Masters is now avoiding the abortion issue as much as possible.

READ MORE: How Roe's reversal has supercharged abortion rights activists: conservative

It isn’t hard to understand why Masters is taking this approach; he obviously believes that the abortion issue helps Kelly.

In deep-red Kansas, 59 percent of voters recently voted against an anti-abortion ballot measure — and if there are that many pro-choice voters in a state as red as Kansas, being anti-abortion may not prove beneficial for Masters in a swing state like Arizona. Trump won Kansas by 15 percent, but he narrowly lost Arizona to now-President Joe Biden. Moreover, Arizona's two U.S. senators, Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, are both pro-choice Democrats.

Swift observes, “While he was running for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona, Blake Masters had on his website a pledge to support a federal personhood law or constitutional amendment. That pledge has been deleted…. Masters isn’t alone among GOP contenders in quieting down his abortion stance after winning the nomination. Even Doug Mastriano has stayed mum since winning his primary.”

Pennsylvania State Sen. Mastriano, a far-right Christian nationalist and conspiracy theorist, is the Republican gubernatorial nominee in that state whose views are further to the right than those of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. But as Swift points out, Mastriano has recently been downplaying his severe anti-abortion views — as he obviously realizes that the abortion issue benefits his Democratic opponent, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

READ MORE: Even if Griswold stands, states are likely to ban contraception

But in Michigan, Republican gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon — who is up against Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — is doubling down on her opposition to abortion, even for rape victims. Whitmer, meanwhile, is vowing to aggressively fight for abortion rights if she is reelected.

“Another possibility is to keep strongly supporting limitations on abortion, often without any exceptions for cases of rape and incest, or the health of the mother,” Swift explains. “It’s easier for people who aren’t running in statewide elections, but rather, for safe, red seats to hold this more extreme position. Still, some people running for statewide office, like Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, just keep on truckin’ through the gaffes.”

During a recent interview, Dixon doubled down on her opposition to abortion even for a 14-year-old rape victim — saying, “I’ve talked to those people who were the child of a rape victim…. there was healing through that baby…. And those voices, the babies of rape victims that have come forward, are very powerful when you hear their story and what the truth is behind that. It’s very hard to not stand up for those people.”

Swift cites South Carolina State Rep. Neal Collins as an example of a Republican who is taking the “I get it now” approach to abortion. Collins was an outspoken abortion opponent in the past but is now speaking out against anti-abortion laws that are so extreme that they forbid abortion even when a pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

“Some Republicans are belatedly realizing the unintended consequences of abortion restrictions in some states,” Swift observes. “This doesn’t mean they’ll be switching sides and winning endorsements from Planned Parenthood or Emily’s List, but it does suggest that at least some Republicans are feeling the pressure to adjust to the new political realities. In a now-viral video, Neal Collins, a Republican state representative in South Carolina, expressed regret for supporting the fetal heartbeat law enacted by the state last year. Collins said that one of his constituents, a doctor, told him about how it is impacting women. Until that call, Rep. Collins apparently never considered the effect of his vote — probably because, before Dobbs, these sorts of exercises were less about legislating and more often about trying to keep the base happy or get a case before the High Court.”

READ MORE: 'I did not sleep': GOP lawmaker vividly describes the horror inflicted by an abortion bill he voted for

A ‘pile of big, polarizing cases’ awaits Ketanji Brown Jackson on the US Supreme Court: reporter

On Thursday, April 7, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson — President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — was confirmed, 53-47, by the U.S. Senate. All 50 Senate Democrats voted to confirm her, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, and they were joined by three Republicans: Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The 51-year-old Jackson will be the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve on the High Court, and she will have a busy schedule after she is sworn in. Journalist Sam Baker, in an article published by Axios on April 8, takes a look at the “pile of big, polarizing cases” awaiting Biden’s nominee.

Baker reports, “Jackson will take her seat on the Court just as it’s diving headfirst into the most controversial issues in American politics — and at a moment when its conservative majority is poised to lock in victories that the right has been chasing for years, sometimes decades…. Jackson will start hearing cases when the Court's next term begins in October. And even with only about a dozen cases on the docket so far, that term is already shaping up to be a dramatic one.”

Jackson won’t be ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which deals with a draconian anti-abortion law in Mississippi and is likely to result in Roe v. Wade being overturned. The High Court will be ruling on that case before Jackson is sworn in. But Jackson, Baker reports, will be ruling in cases having to do with affirmative action, same-sex marriage and voting rights.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states when the Supreme Court handed down its historic Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015. But Baker notes that later this year, “The Court will hear a suit in its next term filed by a graphic designer who wants to make wedding websites, but not for same-sex weddings. She lives in Colorado, and Colorado law says businesses that are open to the general public can’t turn away customers because they’re gay. The Court will debate whether there should be an exception to accommodate business owners’ religious objections to same-sex marriage.”

Republicans have been attacking affirmative action for decades, including college admissions practices.

Baker observes, “The Court is set to hear challenges to the admissions processes at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Both schools give added weight to Black and Hispanic applicants; the lawsuits say that’s a form of discrimination against Asian- Americans…. The Harvard and UNC cases not only ask the Court to throw out these specific programs, but also, to overturn its own precedent and close the door on all uses of race in the admissions process.”

Jackson, Baker points out, has said she will recuse herself from the Harvard case because of her association with that university.

Jackson will also have a chance to rule in an Alabama voting rights case.

“When Alabama drew new boundaries for its congressional districts last year, it ended up with one majority-Black district and smaller numbers of Black voters dispersed through several other districts,” Baker observes. “Critics sued, calling it an illegal act of racial gerrymandering. A trial court agreed, and told the state to draw a new map. But the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, allowed Alabama to leave its district lines in place while the courts sort out whether those lines are illegal.”

Baker adds, “Alabama will be able to carry out its primaries this year before the Court reaches a ruling on the merits. This case matters not just for Alabama, but as part of the Court's approach to voting rights cases overall.”

The Republican book burning project is right out of the 'authoritarian' playbook: former DHS official

All around the United States, far-right MAGA Republicans have been pushing bills designed to bully and intimidate schoolteachers and/or librarians. One of their goals is to purge public K-12 schools and libraries of any subject matter that makes them uncomfortable, whether it pertains to gay rights, feminism or racism. Books that have been targeted range from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

In an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on April 7, Paul Rosenzweig — a former official for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — warns that this movement is right out of the authoritarian playbook.

“In 1787, the Framers of the Constitution saw important values inherent in the principle of freedom of inquiry: the search for truth, scientific progress, cultural development, increased virtue among citizens, holding governmental officials to account, strengthening the community, and serving as a check on politicians,” Rosenzweig explains. “Today, as we rush to ban books and limit the freedom of inquiry, we are tossing aside those values. In doing so, we risk becoming that which our forebears rebelled against. Instead of exalting the liberty of free inquiry, some now seek to restrict thought and channel it into ‘accepted’ ideas.

Rosenzweig goes on to describe some “troubling indicators.”

“In a handful locations around the country,” the former DHS official observes, “individuals have filed criminal complaints against librarians or educators — as if by bringing criminal charges, one could limit disagreements. One such proposed charge was sought against a public library in Wyoming; another was advanced in a school district in Florida. To date, law enforcement and prosecutors have, thankfully, declined to pursue any charges, yet the push continues.”

Rosenzweig continues, “Meanwhile, a group called Moms for Liberty in Williamson County, Tennessee, objected to a number of children’s books in the local elementary school, including a picture book about seahorses that they alleged to be ‘social conditioning’ because it explains that male seahorses ‘are the only male fish to get ‘pregnant’…. growing their young inside their own bodies’ — as if banning the books would change the science. While it is easy to dismiss these efforts as those of a vocal minority — and they really are a minority of Americans — the truth is that the impulse to censor increasingly finds purchase among elected officials.”

Many of the books being targeted, Rosenzweig notes, are “about people who are different, whether because of their sexuality or their race or for some other reason.”

“Books have great power,” Rosenzweig stresses. “That is why authoritarians restrict them. And that is why, soon after the government was formed in 1789 under the new Constitution, Congress and the states moved quickly to protect the freedom of speech and expression via what became the First Amendment…. When Americans today look to limit the freedom of inquiry, they reject an important lesson of our Founders: that free inquiry is the engine of liberty.”

Trump-appointed judge assigned to a ‘Don’t Say Gay’ challenge once defended Florida's same-sex marriage ban

On Monday, March 28, far-right Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the controversial Florida House Bill 1557, a.k.a., the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, into law — and three days later, on March 31, an gay rights advocates filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida. But journalist Mark Joseph Stern, in an article published by Slate the day the lawsuit was filed, delivers some bad news about the lawsuit: the federal judge who has been assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, is a Donald Trump appointee who once railed against same-sex marriage.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that SB 1557 “would deny to an entire generation that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity,” adding, “This effort to control young minds through state censorship — and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality — is a grave abuse of power.”

Stern explains, “It’s a strong argument, put forth by some of the nation’s top civil rights lawyers. But the lawsuit almost immediately hit a snag: It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, a Donald Trump appointee who is perhaps best known for defending Florida’s defunct ban on same-sex marriage. This assignment illustrates how Trump and Republicans stacked the deck against LGBTQ equality for decades to come by flooding the courts with reactionaries in just four years.”

Critics of HB 1557 have been attacking it as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because it is obviously designed to intimidate Florida teachers and discourage them from saying anything gay-related in the classroom.

“The bigotry that drove HB 1557 to passage should be clear to anyone who simply reads the text of the bill,” Stern notes. “By its plain terms, the measure strictly limits ‘instruction’ on ‘sexual orientation or gender identity’ in every grade. This ban is absolute in Grades K–3; in Grades 4–12, all such ‘instruction’ must be ‘age appropriate or developmentally appropriate’ — terms that are not defined.”

Stern continues, “The law allows parents to sue school districts for alleged violations, subjecting purported offenders to long, intrusive investigations. When parents win, they collect both monetary damages and attorneys’ fees. If schools win, they collect nothing. The obvious purpose of the bill is to chill a maximum amount of speech by frightening teachers out of discussing LGBTQ families, rights, or history in the classroom. One additional nasty effect is that it will prevent LGBTQ teachers and students from discussing the mere existence of their own families without fear of a lawsuit.”

Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ended in 2015 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which, in essence, made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, a right-wing Ronald Reagan appointee, was part of the 5-4 majority in that decision. But while Kennedy had a major libertarian streak during his decades on the High Court, Winsor is much more of a social conservative — and he vigorously defended Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage before the Obergefell decision was handed down.

“As solicitor general of Florida…. Winsor fought to preserve the state’s ban on same-sex marriage,” Stern notes. “In the process, he persistently belittled same-sex couples and their children as less deserving of rights than heterosexual families. Winsor’s 2014 briefs argued that outlawing same-sex marriage would promote ‘responsible procreation and childrearing’ because ‘heterosexual couples are the only couples who can produce biological offspring.’”

Stern continues, “Allowing same-sex couples to marry, he asserted, would disrupt ‘family continuity and stability’ by diminishing ‘the likelihood that children will be born to and raised by the mothers and fathers who produced them in stable and enduring family units.’ Excluding same-sex couples from marriage would preserve the primacy of ‘biological offspring’ over adopted children — which was, allegedly, an important state interest.”

Ending Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage, Winsor believed, would “impose significant public harm.” So obviously, Obergefell was not a decision that he welcomed. In 2015, Obergefell not only struck down Florida’s same-sex marriage ban, but also, similar bans all over the United States.

During his years in the White House, Stern notes, Trump made a point of nominating “homophobic extremists” to the lower federal courts — and Winsor was only one example.

“Like Winsor, many of these individuals defended state bans on same-sex couples’ right to marry and have children,” Stern writes. “Others supported legislation designed to denigrate LGBTQ families while serving in elected office…. Trump’s strategy was clear: Seed the federal judiciary with homophobic extremists who would roll back constitutional equality for LGBTQ people for the next half-century.”

Legal experts and fact checkers dismantle Tulsi Gabbard’s 'absurd' comparison of press freedom in US and Russia

Democratic former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has been pandering to MAGA Republicans a lot recently, speaking at the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida and making frequent appearances on Fox News —where she hasn’t been shy about defending Russian President Vladimir Putin. During a March 15 appearance on Fox News, Gabbard told far-right host Jesse Watters that freedom of the press in the United States is “not so different” from Russia. And PolitiFact’s Bill McCarthy pushes back against that claim aggressively in an article published on March 18.

Gabbard told Watters, “This foundation of freedom of speech, freedom of expression is directly under threat and under attack.… What’s happening here is not so different from what we’re seeing happening in Russia, where you’ve got state TV and controlled messaging across the board. This is where we’re at."

McCarthy, in response, explains, “A new law in Russia threatens up to 15 years of prison time for spreading information about the war that authorities consider to be ‘false.’ There are no parallels in the U.S., where freedom of speech, expression and the press are safeguarded by the Constitution. Gabbard alleged censorship by social media companies, but experts say those claims are not supported by evidence.”

Scott Gehlbach, who teaches political science at the University of Chicago, denounced Gabbard’s claims as “absurd.”

“In Russia, one can now face up to 15 years in prison for simply calling a war a war," Gehlbach told PolitiFact. “In the U.S., citizens such as Tulsi Gabbard are free to make not only truthful, but untruthful, statements without fear of legal sanction."

Similarly, Ellen Goodman, a law professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told PolitiFact, "The state in Russia is criminalizing speech and locking people up. That is not happening in the U.S. — not at (the) hands of private parties or state."

David Kaye, who teaches law at the University of California, Irvine, also pushed back against Gabbard’s claims.

Kaye told PolitiFact, “Russia is exercising extraordinary powers of censorship unseen in Russia since the Soviet era…. Is there anything remotely like this in the United States? No. The U.S. government lacks power under the Constitution to engage in the kind of actions taking place in Russia."

The House just passed a bill forbidding hairstyle discrimination. Most Republicans voted against it

At the state and local levels in the U.S., one finds a variety of laws that address hairstyle discrimination. What the United States still doesn’t have is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against hairstyles, but on Friday, March 18, the U.S. House of passed a federal hairstyle discrimination bill.

The bill, according to Bloomberg News reporter Paige Smith, passed 235-189 in the House. In order to become federal law, however, it would also need to pass in the U.S. Senate and, after that, be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

“The bill would bar discrimination against locs, braids, Bantu knots, and other hairstyles to make uniform the hodgepodge of state laws against this form of bias, as well as competing court rulings weighing in on bias against specific styles,” Smith reports.

In February, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a far-right MAGA Republican, criticized the bill as “unnecessary,” but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer totally disagreed — saying, “This bill…. is not about hair. But it’s about the reaction, the inequality, the discrimination, the ‘you’re not welcome here’ if your hair texture is different.”

How the bill will do in the Senate, Smith notes, remains “uncertain.” Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey has introduced a companion bill, but so far, the only Senate Republican who has supported the House version, according to Smith, is Sen. Don Bacon of Nebraska.

If a hairstyle discrimination bill did get passed in the Senate, Biden would have the power to veto it — although he would be almost certain to sign it into law. In a policy statement released on March 15, the Biden Administration said, “Such discrimination has imposed significant economic costs, learning disruption, and denial of economic opportunities for people of color. Black women, for example, experience discrimination in hiring because of natural hair styles, and Black girls experience disproportionate rates of school discipline, sometimes for discriminatory hair violations.”

Iowa newspaper accuses Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP of taking a 'victory lap' for exclusion over anti-trans bill

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed into law a bill that bars transgender females from participating in girls’ high school and college sports. The Des Moines Register’s editorial board, in an editorial published on March 3 and updated on March 4, is vehemently critical of the law — arguing that Iowa Republicans who support it have been mean-spirited in their treatment of trans girls.

“Throughout hearings and debates about a law barring trans girls and women from playing girls and college women's sports,” the Register’s editorial board explains, “Republicans concocted menacing-sounding scenarios of cisgender girls losing races, games, scholarships, and roster spots to a crush of Iowans with unfair advantages. A couple used offensive language to refer to trans girls and women and equated trans gender identity with mental illness or delusion.”

The Register’s editorial board continues, “Many ignored or rejected witnesses' repeated reminders that there has never been a problem in our state in girls’ competitions with people who were assigned male at birth. Similarly unmoving was testimony that trans Iowans are disproportionately subject to bullying and other discrimination.”

The Register’s editorial board calls out Iowa Republicans for the insensitive “victory lap” they took when Reynolds signed the bill into law on Thursday, March 3.

The editorial board argues, “It's one thing to take a victory lap after lowering taxes…. On Thursday, Republicans threw a party for exclusion. It was reminiscent, of course, of the midnight signing of the law prohibiting mask mandates last spring. That caused needless confusion the following morning and delivered an unmistakable ‘COVID is over, you cowards!’ message to those on the wrong side of the vote. COVID was not, in fact, over.”

The only Republican in the Iowa House of Representatives who voted against the bill, according to the Register, was Rep. Michael Bergan.

“What now? Trans girls who started track practice last week will have to either quit or join the boys' team, even though they are girls,” the Register’s editorial board laments. “Golf, tennis and soccer players can no longer look forward to the official March 14 start of practice. Litigation is all but certain.”

The Ukraine crisis shows why liberal democracy must be defended: Hillary Clinton

Liberal democracy is under attack not only in countries that have voted authoritarians into office — Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines — but also, in the United States, where Fox News’ Tucker Carlson openly praises Orbán, countless MAGA Republicans tried to overturn 2020’s presidential election results, and the Claremont Institute (a right-wing think tank) argues that democracy has outlived its usefulness. But in late February articles, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former U.S. State Department official Dan Schwerin and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria argue that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows why liberal democracy is well worth fighting for.

Clinton and Schwerin, in an article published by The Atlantic on February 25, stress that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is about much more than his interests in that part of the world.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin pines for the old Russian empire and takes Ukraine’s independence as a personal affront, but the invasion of Ukraine is not a limited regional dispute between neighbors,” Clinton and Schwerin observe. “Putin is also motivated by a deep opposition to democracy more broadly; that is why he has waged a long-running shadow war to destabilize free societies and discredit democratic institutions in the United States and around the world. Ukraine is one flash point in a larger global struggle between democracy and autocracy — one that stretches from the steppes of Eastern Europe to the waters of the Indo-Pacific to the halls of the U.S.”


Events in Ukraine, according to Clinton and Schwerin, must be viewed as a part of a global trend in which democracy is also under attack by everyone from the government in Mainland China to the Republican Party in the United States.

“Much has been said about the assault on American democracy by a radicalized Republican Party, but its international consequences have not gotten the attention they deserve,” Clinton and Schwerin warn. “Republican leaders are abandoning core tenets of American democracy even as the stakes in the global contest between democracy and autocracy are clearer and higher than at any time since the end of the Cold War. They are defending coup-plotters and curbing voting rights while Russia tries to crush Ukraine’s fragile democracy and China menaces not only Taiwan, but democracies everywhere, from Australia to Lithuania.”

Meanwhile, in an op-ed published by the Washington Post on February 24, Zakaria — best known for hosting “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN — writes that Putin feels threatened by Ukraine’s desire to remain a democracy.

Zakaria explains, “What caused this crisis in the first place? It’s very simple: the overwhelming desire of Ukrainians to live in an open, democratic society. Let us not forget what it was that enraged Putin and led him to invade Ukraine for the first time in 2014. It was not a Ukrainian declaration to seek NATO membership; it was the efforts of the Kyiv government, a pro-Russian government at the time, to finalize an ‘association agreement’ with the European Union.”

The CNN host views Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “bloody, brutal effort” to “stem” the “the liberal democratic project” in Eastern Europe.

Zakaria wraps up his op-ed by stressing that while liberal democracy hasn’t been defeated, it will be crucial to fight for it around the world.

“With the voices of nationalism and populism so loud, it seems that liberal values have few willing to defend them unabashedly,” Zakaria writes. “To those who dwell on liberal democracy’s problems rather than its promise, I say, ‘Let them go to Ukraine.’ The people of Ukraine are showing us that those values — of an open society and a free world — can be worth fighting for and even dying for. The question for all of us is, what will we do to help them?”

Right-wing federal judges have grown increasingly hostile to voting rights: report

Although considerable animosity now exists between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, both of them helped bring an abundance of right-wing judges to the federal judiciary — not only the three U.S. Supreme Court justices that Trump nominated and appointed (Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett), but also, lower federal court judges. Trump nominated them; McConnell signed off on them.

Now, with voting rights under attack by far-right MAGA Republicans all over the United States, voter suppression has plenty of allies in the federal judiciary. National Public Radio reporter Carrie Johnson takes a look at their actions in an article published by NPR’s website on February 25.

“The nation's premier tool to protect voting rights is in mortal danger, threatened on multiple fronts by the Supreme Court and lower-ranking federal judges, scholars and civil rights advocates say,” Johnson reports. “The latest blow to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 came this week in Arkansas, where a federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump dismissed a case over new statehouse maps. The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the maps diluted the power of Black voters. But the judge, (Lee Rudofsky), said he found no way for the outside advocates to proceed.”

The ACLU has vowed to appeal Rudofsky’s ruling.

Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told NPR, “This ruling was so radical that there was no choice but to appeal. Private individuals have brought cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote for generations.”

Johnson notes that Gorsuch, in a different case, “expressed doubts about private rights to sue” under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And Guy-Uriel Charles, a Harvard Law School professor, told NPR, “They are teeing up statutory and constitutional questions for the Court with the justifiable belief that the Court will welcome the narrow interpretation and the opportunity to further narrow the statute.”

Charles isn’t optimistic where the Supreme Court and voting rights are concerned.

The Harvard professor told NPR, “I would be very surprised if the Court does not interpret the statute in such a way as to take away the authority of states to draw majority-minority districts under the (Voting Rights) Act, except in cases in which the states have engaged in blatantly clear racial discrimination.”

Pentagon general suspended over allegations he created a 'racist and toxic' work environment: report

If someone holds extremist views, the last place they should be is the Pentagon or the U.S. military. But according to Task & Purpose, a three-star general at the Pentagon is on suspension while allegations of overt racism are investigated.

Task & Purpose’s Haley Britzky, in an article published on February 16, reports that U.S. Army Gen. Duane Gamble “has been suspended while the service investigates claims that he created a toxic climate, regularly degraded others in public forums, went out of his way to criticize the performance of Black officers, and made racist remarks.”

“Lt. Gen. Duane Gamble, the Army deputy chief of staff for logistics — head of an office commonly referred to as the G-4 — was reported to the Army’s Office of the Inspector General in September 2020 amid accusations that he cultivated a toxic environment in the office,” Britzky explains. “Two months later, an official investigation was launched.”

Cynthia Smith, a U.S. Army spokesperson, told Task & Purpose that the U.S. Defense Department Inspector General’s Office completed its investigation of Gamble on February 11. Smith, on February 15, confirmed that Gamble had been suspended, according to Britzky.

“Three sources who spoke with Task & Purpose, including a recently retired Army colonel, described a harmful work environment which one source described as ‘racist and toxic,’” Britzky reports. “The general was known to frequently degrade subordinates and peers alike, and regularly made inappropriate comments during staff meetings. This article is based on interviews with those three sources, all of whom have direct knowledge of Gamble’s remarks and the culture within the G-4 office, as well as documents and e-mails outlining the allegations against Gamble while he served as one of the Army’s most senior logisticians.”

Britzky adds, “Gamble, who is white, almost exclusively made disparaging comments about Black general officers he worked with and knew, the sources said. He often spoke down to Black subordinates in meetings and overlooked their suggestions, only to praise the same suggestion when it came from a white colleague.”

According to Britzky, “Sources also accused Gamble of making insensitive and inappropriate comments in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.”

Spurs’ Popovich slams Republicans, calls Manchin and Sinema 'selfish' over voting rights: 'Past time for hardball'

The fact that not everyone in Texas is a far-right Republican was evident on Sunday, January 23, when San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was interviewed by reporters and spoke his mind about voting rights — slamming not only Republicans, but also, two centrist Democrats: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Before the Spurs’ game against the Philadelphia 76ers — the basketball team known for everyone from Julius Erving, a.k.a. Dr. J., to Allen Iverson — the 72-year-old Popovich told reporters, “As many have said, it’s been time, it’s past time for hardball. The Republican Senate will just not participate, they just will not. So, whatever can be done needs to be done. And Sinema and Manchin, they get it, but they don’t get it. They know what’s going on. They understand. But there are more important things to them, and it’s damn selfish and dangerous to our country.”

Although Manchin and Sinema have voiced their support for voting rights — Manchin has pushed the Freedom to Vote Act as an alternative to the more comprehensive For the People Act — they are adamantly opposed to altering the filibuster, which requires 60 votes for most legislation to pass. And Democrats, with their narrow Senate majority, don’t have 60 votes.

Some voting rights activists have proposed a compromise to Manchin and Sinema: keep the filibuster on the whole, but create an exception for voting rights. Manchin and Sinema, however, are even opposed to that.

READ: 'Threat to democracy is real': Experts nuke 'fascist' Newt Gingrich over his threat to jail Democrats

Popovich, who is vehemently opposed to the voter suppression bills being proposed by Republicans in state legislators, told reporters, “It’s ironic, but as much as the community of color has been oppressed and denigrated, those are the people who try to save this damn country from itself. It’s just ironic to me.”

Popovich continued, “Every time we take steps forward, you get the backlash. The fact that the voting rights issue is in the situation it’s in is just mind-boggling to me in one sense, because we’ve already gone through this back in the ‘60s — and we know what the Supreme Court did earlier in gutting it. But it's like, we don’t get it. It’s like, maybe there wouldn’t be a democracy if it wasn’t for Black people.”

Popovich, a U.S. Air Force veteran, has been the Spurs’ coach since 1996.

Popovich told reporters, “It seems like (with) the Senate — mostly older White people — it all comes down to fear mongering and race and power, and they don’t want to face it.”

READ: Louisville Black studies scholar slams 'callous' Mitch McConnell for total indifference to African-American voters

Rigged elections are important to modern-day authoritarians

Many dictators of the past, from Spain’s Gen. Francisco Franco on the far right to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and China’s Mao Tse Tung on the far left, enjoyed dictator-for-life status. But the authoritarian model being employed by Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin is different: They do everything possible to undermine checks and balances in their countries and rig the game badly, yet pretend they were democratically elected.

A question that is often asked about Putin or Erdogan is: Why even bother with sham elections? Why not just declare themselves dictators for life the way that Gen. Augusto Pinochet did in Chile? Hong Kong-based journalist Timothy McLaughlin sheds some light on this subject in an informative article published by The Atlantic on December 20, explaining why authoritarians bother with the pretense of sham elections.

McLaughlin points out that Lee Morgenbesser, who teaches politics at Australia’s Griffith University, describes this pattern as “hegemonic authoritarianism” — a pattern in which, Morgenbesser says, “de facto opposition parties are banned, basic civil liberties and political rights are overtly violated, the rule of law is arbitrarily breached, and the government has monopolized access to media.”

Morgenbesser told McLaughlin, “Ultimately, elections may be allowed to exist, but they cease to be an avenue for actual opposition parties to gain power.”

Much of McLaughlin’s article focuses on China, and he doesn’t get into Turkey under Erdogan or Russia under Putin. But the “hegemonic authoritarianism” concept that Morgenbesser discussed with McLaughlin applies to a variety of countries. Apologists for Erdogan, Putin or Orbán would argue that they could be voted out of office if voters really wanted them out, but that argument ignores the fact that they have done everything possible to cement their power by undermining checks and balances in their countries.

In the United States, a love of “hegemonic authoritarianism” is alive and well in former President Donald Trump’s MAGA movement. The most disturbing part of the voter suppression bills that Republicans have been pushing all over the U.S. isn’t the many ways in which they make voting more difficult — although that’s bad enough — but the way they seek to put MAGA Republicans exclusively in charge of election systems. The obvious goal is create a rigged voting system in which Republicans can simply throw out any election results they don’t like and make it next to impossible for Democrats to win major elections.

Trump has never been shy about expressing his admiration for Erdogan and Putin. And on Fox News, MAGA host Tucker Carlson openly praises Orbán, exalting him as a role model for the U.S.

Far-right Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has praised the military junta that abused Brazil in the past, favors the “hegemonic authoritarianism” model. It remains to be seen whether or not Brazil’s system of checks and balances will hold up, and Bolsonaro’s critics — from liberals and progressives to traditional conservatives — are hoping he will be voted out of office in Brazil’s 2022 presidential election.

Franco enjoyed dictator-for-life status in Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975; Castro spent decades as Cuba’s dictator and head of the Cuban Communist Party until he resigned because of poor health and handed the country’s communist regime over to his brother Raúl Castro. But with the “hegemonic authoritarianism” model, authoritarians like Orbán, Putin and Erdogan can pretend that they were democratically elected while promoting a system that makes it difficult or impossible to vote them out.

That is the model being employed in Russia, Hungary and Turkey, which was once the most democratic country in the Islamic world. And it is the model that MAGA Republicans will employ in the United States if they are allowed to get away with it.

Raphael Warnock calls out Manchin, Sinema for holding up voting rights bill: 'Slavery was bipartisan'

As Republicans in state legislatures all over the Untied States continue to push voter suppression bills, a variety of liberal, progressive and centrist Democrats are stressing the need to get a voting rights bill passed by both houses of Congress and onto President Joe Biden’s desk for signature. One of the liberal Democrats who has prioritized voting rights, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, passionately called out supporters of voter suppression during a Tuesday, December 14 speech on the Senate floor.

“The judgment of history is upon us," Warnock told fellow U.S. senators. “Future generations will ask: When the democracy was in a 911 state of emergency, what did you do to put the fire out?”

Warnock spoke the truth about U.S. democracy being in a state of emergency. The voter suppression bills that Republicans are pushing are not only dangerous because of the many ways in which they make voting more difficult, but also, because of the ways in which some of them seek to replace bipartisan election boards with GOP-controlled election boards. Supporters of voting rights, including some Never Trump conservatives, have been warning that if overtly partisan Republicans have total control of election systems, they will be in a position to simply throw out any election results they don’t like.

Two centrist Democrats who stand in the way of getting a voting rights bill passed in the U.S. Senate are Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — not because they support voter suppression, but because of their staunch, unwavering support of the filibuster. Although Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, they don’t have the 60 votes needed to meet the filibuster’s demands.

An exception to the filibuster could be created for voting rights, enabling Democrats to get a voting rights bill through the Senate with only a simple majority rather than the 60-vote requirement. But Manchin and Sinema have so far resisted such an exception, and Sinema has stressed that Democrats will be glad to have the filibuster when Republicans regain control of the Senate in the future.

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post on June 21, Sinema wrote, “Once in a majority, it is tempting to believe you will stay in the majority. But a Democratic Senate minority used the 60-vote threshold just last year to filibuster a police reform proposal and a COVID-relief bill that many Democrats viewed as inadequate. Those filibusters were mounted not as attempts to block progress, but to force continued negotiations toward better solutions.”

Manchin and Sinema have also emphasized their desire for bipartisan cooperation. Sinema, who often frustrates liberals and progressives but is popular among independents, Never Trump conservatives and moderates in her state, considers the late Sen. John McCain her idol and is on very friendly terms with his daughter, GOP activist and former “The View” co-host Meghan McCain.

But Warnock, without actually mentioning Manchin or Sinema by name, argued that bipartisanship is not positive when one of the parties is promoting something that is harmful and destructive — such as voter suppression.

Warnock told fellow senators, “Here’s the thing we must remember: Slavery was bipartisan. Jim Crow segregation was bipartisan. The refusal of women’s suffrage was bipartisan. The denial of the basic dignity of members of the LGBTQ community has long been bipartisan. The three-fifths compromise was the creation of a putative, national unity at the expense of Black people’s basic humanity. So, when colleagues in this chamber talk to me about bipartisanship — which I believe in — I just have to ask, ‘At whose expense?’”

Law professor explains what Brett Kavanaugh gets painfully wrong about Supreme Court history and Roe v. Wade

When the U.S. Supreme Court, on December 1, began hearing oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the case that could result in Roe v. Wade being overturned — legal experts were paying close attention to what Justice Brett Kavanaugh had to say. Kavanaugh, who appears likely to vote in favor of overturning Roe, pointed out that the High Court reversed major decisions in the past. But University of Baltimore law professor Kimberly Wehle, in an op-ed published by Politico on December 14, stresses that Kavanaugh is missing an important point about those past reversals.

Kavanaugh told his colleagues, “If you think about some of the most important cases, the most consequential cases in this Court’s history, there’s a string of them where the cases overruled precedent.”

Kavanaugh specifically mentioned 1954’s Brown v. the Board of Education, an anti-segregation ruling that reversed the “separate but equal” doctrine of 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson. While Plessy upheld segregation as constitutional, Brown struck down “separate but equal” as unconstitutional.

“Although it’s true the Court has indeed reversed itself on occasion, the practice is vanishingly rare,” Wehle explains. “Kavanaugh listed a number of those cases — some of which, like Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona, are familiar even to non-lawyers. But in his survey of Court history, he neglected to point out a notable fact those cases have in common. In those small number of overrulings, the Court has almost always expanded constitutional rights, not constrained them.”

Roe v. Wade, like 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut, 1969’s Stanley v. Georgia and 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas, is an example of what legal scholars call a “right to privacy” decision. And critics of Roe, as Wehle notes in her Politico op-ed, don’t believe that the “right to privacy” exists in the U.S. Constitution.

“To be sure, conservative critics would argue that the right to abortion was built on a fiction in the first place, as nothing in the Constitution explicitly protects the right to privacy, let alone the right to terminate a pregnancy,” Wehle writes. “But that argument falls apart when one considers that justices have identified so-called unenumerated rights within the 14th Amendment’s due process clause on a number of occasions, using them to block the government’s ability to dictate individual choices about marriage partners, intimate sexual contact, contraception and the rearing and education of one’s children.”

One High Court justice who is certain to vote against overturning Roe is Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The Barack Obama appointee has emphasized the importance of stare decisis or respect for precedent in her Dobbs arguments.

Wehle notes, “Stare decisis…. is Latin for ‘to stand by things decided.’ Although not in the actual Constitution, the Court has historically abided by the assumption that, absent some special justification, its prior rulings stand. The goal of the doctrine is to foster stability and respect for the rule of law. The Court has identified a grab bag of criteria in considering whether to abandon prior precedent, including whether the decision was well-reasoned or ‘egregiously wrong,’ whether its replacement is workable and pragmatic, whether the facts on the ground have changed in the intervening years, whether the precedent conflicts with other Supreme Court rulings, and whether overruling it would injure individuals or organizations who relied on the decision, including society as a whole.”

Wehle concludes her op-ed by stressing that overturning Roe would be radically different from overturning Plessy with Brown.

“No doubt Kavanaugh was correct to suggest that, had the Court not overruled precedents like Plessy v. Ferguson, which for its part blessed racially ‘separate but equal’ facilities, ‘the country would be a much different place,’” Wehle writes. “If he and four other justices join together to overrule Roe come June 2022, this country will indeed look vastly different when it comes to the individual constitutional rights of women against government intrusion. And that movement would be backward rather than forward — a rejection of a hallmark of America’s constitutional jurisprudence and its societal strength.”

If Texans can sue abortion providers, blue states can sue 'ghost gun' manufacturers: California governor

Although much of the criticism of Texas Senate Bill 8 — a draconian law that greatly restricts abortions in the Lone Star State — has come from liberals, progressives, Democrats and centrists, some right-wing libertarians have been scathing critics of the law as well. Their argument is that if the Texas law can encourage citizens to sue abortion providers, it would only be a matter of time until someone in a blue state proposed that such a tactic be used against gun manufacturers. And sure enough, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing that the Texas “precedent” be used to “let Californians sue those who put ghost guns and assault weapons on our streets.”

On December 11, Newsom tweeted:

Newsom’s proposal, however, isn’t going as far as what some right-wing libertarians predicted; he isn’t talking about suing run-of-the-mill California gun shops that legally sell handguns and obey the state’s gun control laws. But he is talking about people who sell ghost guns online or sell assault weapons in violation of California laws. Ghost guns are firearms that are put together from kits and do not carry serial numbers.

Reporting on Newsom’s proposal in the liberal/progressive Mother Jones, journalist Dan Friedman explains, “Texas lawmakers used an audacious strategy to get their controversial abortion law past the Supreme Court: empowering private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who ‘aids and abets’ patients trying to obtain the procedure in the state after six weeks. But the lawmakers may not have anticipated what their law could inspire. Now, California Gov. Gavin Newsom says that he plans to borrow the tactic to advance his own measure that would allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers or people who sell assault weapons or so-called ghost guns.”

Newsom, according to Friedman, has “suggested damages of at least $10,000 per violation.”

“Newsom’s announcement is a bold political gambit likely to prove popular with progressive voters in his state and elsewhere,” Friedman observes. “But it’s not immediately clear if it will work legally. California has long banned the manufacture and sale of so-called assault-style weapons, including semi-automatic rifles like the popular AR-15. A federal judge ruled, in June, that the state’s law is unconstitutional in an opinion in which he compared AR-15s to Swiss Army knives.”

Diego Zambrano, a law professor at Stanford University, discussed Newsom’s proposal with the San Jose Mercury News — saying, “The Supreme Court has never said that states cannot regulate the sale of assault weapons. That is different. In this sense, California is being better than Texas. What Texas was doing is directly attacking a recognized federal constitutional right. (Newsom is) not attacking a well-recognized federal constitutional right to an assault weapon, because that right has never been recognized.”

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