More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson

Two recent posts (here and here) deal with how a different system of “justice” was applied in Ferguson in order to protect a police officer from facing trial in a situation where anyone else would be tried. This has also been a trend in other parts of the country, with it being very rare for police officers to face criminal charges in shootings. The posts were also cross posted at The Moderate Voice and the first post has quite a lengthy discussion of this issue. (The second post was cross posted there at approximately the same time as this is being posted so I do not know yet whether the discussion will be extended there.)

As information has come out about the proceedings at Ferguson, many others have also expressed similar concerns that the system was abused to protect Darren Wilson from facing a trial in the shooting of Michael Brown despite their being sufficient evidence to establish probable cause. This includes libertarian as well as liberal sites. At Hit and Run, Jacob Sullum wrote that Darren Wilson Got a Private Trial Run by Friendly Prosecutors:

As I noted yesterday, the likelihood that Darren Wilson would have been acquitted if he had faced a homicide charge in connection with the death of Michael Brown does not mean he should not have been indicted. As you go through the evidence that was presented to the grand jury, two things are clear: There is plenty of room for reasonable doubt as to whether Wilson broke the law when he shot and killed Brown, and there is considerable evidence that he did—surely enough to supply probable cause, the standard for charging someone with a crime. St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch managed to obscure the latter point by staging what amounted to a trial behind closed doors—a trial without a judge or an adversarial process. Assuming the jurors were acting in good faith (and there is no reason to think they weren’t), the only explanation for their decision is that they lost sight of the task at hand and considered the evidence as if they were being asked to convict Wilson rather than approve charges that would have led to a real trial.

It is not hard to see how the grand jurors could have made that mistake. McCulloch said he would present all of the evidence collected so far—everything a trial jury would see and hear. The jurors convened on 23 days, hearing testimony that takes up nearly 5,000 pages of transcript, not including the various recorded interviews played for them. Instead of making the case for an indictment, as they ordinarily would do, the prosecutors running the show often seemed to be reinforcing Wilson’s defense, as when they suggested that marijuana-induced psychosis might account for the ferocious attack that Wilson says he suffered at Brown’s hands and for the heedless charge that Wilson says forced him to shoot Brown over and over again.

McCulloch clearly thought an elaborate grand jury process, coupled with public release of all the evidence presented to the jurors, would help keep the peace and mollify critics who feared that Wilson would get away with murder. But a real trial, even one ending in acquittal, would have been much more effective at achieving those goals. A public airing of the evidence, with ample opportunity for advocates on both sides to present and probe it, is what Brown’s family has been demanding all along. McCulloch took extraordinary steps to deny them that trial, thereby reinforcing the impression that the legal system is rigged against young black men and in favor of the white cops who shoot them.

Clive Cook wrote:

A jury may well have found Wilson innocent. Much of the evidence, so far as one can tell, leans in his favor. But there should unquestionably have been a trial. If you ask me, probable cause to indict him for unlawful killing resided in the single word “unarmed” — and that’s to say nothing of the conflicting testimony about whether an already wounded Michael Brown was about to attack Wilson when the fatal shots were fired.

The larger issue — and in this system I see no way to address it — is that in cases such as these, the law-enforcement complex is judging its own conduct. Police and prosecutors seem to get bigger guns and more powers every time policymakers turn their attention to the subject; the trend never seems to go the other way. With this growing and potentially tyrannical power goes the vital necessity of ensuring that officers of the law are held properly to account. And they aren’t. It’s as simple as that.

Jeffrey Toobin discussed how grand juries are used:

In Missouri, as elsewhere, grand juries are known as tools of prosecutors. In the famous words of Sol Wachtler, the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich” if he wanted to. This is certainly true, but it is true, too, that grand juries retain at least a nominal independence. They usually do what prosecutors want, but they are not legally required to.

In sending Wilson’s case to the grand jury, McCulloch technically turned over to them the decision about whether to prosecute. By submitting all the evidence to the grand jury, he added to the perception that this process represented an independent evaluation of the evidence. But there is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment. The standard for such charges—probable cause, or more probable than not—is generally a very easy hurdle. If McCulloch’s lawyers had simply pared down the evidence to that which incriminated Wilson, they would have easily obtained an indictment.

The grand jury chose not to indict Wilson for any crimes in connection with Brown’s death. In a news conference following the decision, McCulloch laid out the evidence that he believed supported the grand jury’s finding. In making the case for Wilson’s innocence, McCulloch cherry-picked the most exculpatory information from what was assembled before the grand jury. The conclusion may even have been correct; based on a preliminary review of the evidence before the grand jury, it’s not clear to me that a trial jury would have found Wilson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved. This is the opposite of the customary ham-sandwich approach, in which the jurors are explicitly steered to the prosecutor’s preferred conclusion. Some might suggest that all cases should be treated the way McCulloch handled Wilson before the grand jury, with a full-fledged mini-trial of all the incriminating and exculpatory evidence presented at this preliminary stage. Of course, the cost of such an approach, in both time and money, would be prohibitive, and there is no guarantee that the ultimate resolutions of most cases would be any more just. In any event, reserving this kind of special treatment for white police officers charged with killing black suspects cannot be an appropriate resolution.

Further coverage from The New Yorker can be found here.

Noam Scheiber also described how St. Louis Prosecutor Bob McCulloch Abused the Grand Jury Process, calling the choice of using the grand jury process to establish Wilson’s innocence” to be deeply unfair:

Why? Because grand juries simply aren’t equipped to adjudicate guilt or innocence. As The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin points out, prosecutors have enormous sway over grand juries. Typically, they cherry pick the evidence that establishes probable cause, helping them obtain indictments in almost every case. But in this case, McCulloch clearly didn’t believe an indictment was deserved. So he used his influence in the opposite directionstacking the deck in favor of a non-indictment. Specifically, he inundated the grand jury with “every scrap of evidence [he] could find,” in Toobin’s words, at which point “the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved.” [UPDATE: This New York Times story goes even further, showing how McCulloch’s team essentially cherry-picked evidence establishing Wilson’s innocence. It describes how they accepted Wilson’s account at face value, even leading him toward exculpatory statements through their questioning, while going out of their way to point out flaws and contradictions in alternative accounts from other witnesses.]

In effect, McCulloch staged a pre-trial trial in order to vindicate his personal view of Wilson’s innocence. But grand juries simply aren’t the proper forum for holding a trial. The most obvious reason is that they’re not adversarial settings. The prosecutor gets to present his or her view, but there’s no one to present the opposing viewa rather key feature of the criminal justice system. This isn’t a problem when the prosecutor believes the defendant is guilty, since the result is an actual trial. But when the prosecutor stage-manages a grand jury into affirming his view of the defendant’s innocence, that’s it. That’s the only trial we get.

Politically, I understand the advantage of this for McCulloch. He gets to wrap his preference for not indicting Wilson in the legitimacy of a trial-like process, whereas simply declining to indict Wilson without the support of a grand jury would have left him badly exposed. It would have triggered an enormous political backlash, rather than the relatively minor uproar we witnessed Monday night. But as a basic matter of justice, it’s outrageous. As I noted yesterday, the only way to earn the legitimacy of a trial is to actually have a trial, in which both positions are given a fair hearing.

The New York Times placed this in perspective, describing what McCulloch did wrong in this case:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Mr. McCulloch took a reckless approach to announcing the grand jury’s finding. After delaying the announcement all day, he finally made it late in the evening, when darkness had placed law enforcement agencies at a serious disadvantage as they tried to control the angry crowds that had been drawn into the streets by news that the verdict was coming. Mr. McCulloch’s announcement sounded more like a defense of Officer Wilson than a neutral summary of the facts that had led the grand jury to its conclusion.

For the black community of Ferguson, the killing of Michael Brown was the last straw in a long train of abuses that they have suffered daily at the hands of the local police. News accounts have strongly suggested, for example, that the police in St. Louis County’s many municipalities systematically target poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops — partly to generate fines — which has the effect of both bankrupting and criminalizing whole communities.

In this context, the police are justifiably seen as an alien, occupying force that is synonymous with state-sponsored abuse.

The case resonated across the country — in New York City, Chicago and Oakland — because the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast. This point was underscored last month in a grim report by ProPublica, showing that young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk — 21 times greater — of being shot dead by police than young white men. These statistics reflect the fact that many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.

We get a flavor of this in Officer Wilson’s grand jury testimony, when he describes Michael Brown, as he was being shot, as a soulless behemoth who was “almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him.”

Crooks and Liars described How Robert McCulloch Hoodwinked The Ferguson Grand Jury

For the entire proceeding, jurors weighed the evidence in light of a law that was deemed unconstitutional almost 30 years ago. Then they corrected the record at the very end, but by then it was too late.

To me, this invalidates the entire decision. While I believe jurors acted in good faith, the prosecutor did not, and intentionally confused jurors as to the applicable law. Correcting it at the end is not adequate or acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is no way to force Bob McCulloch to prosecute Darren Wilson. But Eric Holder has promised an aggressive investigation of Ferguson police. That’s good, but he might want to broaden that investigation to include St. Louis County prosecutors.

How can anyone believe this Grand Jury proceeding has a shred of integrity? I don’t blame the jurors; I blame the prosecutor.

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More Evidence For A Different System Of Justice For The Police

Yesterday I discussed how the grand jury was used in Ferguson was an example of how justice is different for the police than it is for everyone else.  The Washington Post also reports on unorthodox police practices in handling Darren Wilson after the shooting:

When Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Such seemingly un­or­tho­dox forensic practices emerged from the voluminous testimony released in the aftermath of a grand jury decision Monday night not to indict Wilson.

The transcript showed that local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene

Charles Johnson adds, “Perhaps the most outrageous thing: police never tested Wilson’s gun for Michael Brown’s fingerprints. Since one of the main points of Wilson’s story was that Brown grabbed his gun, why wasn’t this done?”

The National Bar Association has also responded to the decision:

 The National Bar Association is questioning how the Grand Jury, considering the evidence before them, could reach the conclusion that Darren Wilson should not be indicted and tried for the shooting death of Michael Brown. National Bar Association President Pamela J. Meanes expresses her sincere disappointment with the outcome of the Grand Jury’s decision but has made it abundantly clear that the National Bar Association stands firm and will be calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to pursue federal charges against officer Darren Wilson. “We will not rest until Michael Brown and his family has justice” states Pamela Meanes, President of the National Bar Association. 

President Meanes is requesting that the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri not allow this decision to cause an unnecessary uproar in the community that could lead to arrests, injuries or even deaths of innocent people. “I am asking for everyone to remain as calm as possible and to join in solidarity as we continue to support the family of Michael Brown and put our legal plan into full effect” says President Meanes  “I feel the  magnitude of the grand jury’s ruling as Ferguson, Missouri is only minutes from where I reside”, adds President Meanes.

Over the last couple of months, the National Bar Association has  hosted Town Hall meetings informing  attendees of their Fourth Amendment (Search & Seizure) constitutional rights, whether it is legal to record police activity, and how citizens should behave/respond if and when they interface with police officers. “The death of Michael Brown was the last straw and the catalyst for addressing issues of inequality and racial bias in policing, the justice system, and violence against members of minority communities,” states Pamela Meanes.

The family of Michael Brown requested that District Attorney McCullough step aside and allow a special prosecutor be assigned to the investigation to give the community confidence that the grand jury would conduct a complete and thorough investigation into the tragic shooting death of 18 year old Michael Brown. The grand jury’s decision confirms the fear that many expressed months ago — that a fair and impartial investigation would not happen.

“The National Bar Association is adamant about our desire for transformative justice. While we are disappointed with the grand jury’s ruling, we are promoting peace on every street corner around the world. The only way to foster systemic change is to organize, educate, and mobilize. We are imploring everyone to fight against the injustice in Ferguson, Missouri and throughout the United States by banding together and working within the confines of the law,” states President Meanes.

Update: More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson

 

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Two Systems Of Justice: One For Police, One For Everyone Else

The grand jury’s decision in Ferguson not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown demonstrates how we have two systems of justice in the United States. I am not referring only to the differences in treatment based upon race. This is clearly a major factor, but as it has already been discussed at length at many sources I am going instead to highlight another aspect of this problem. The system works different for police officers as opposed to anybody else. Needless to say, blacks are at an even further disadvantage in a case involving blacks and the police.

The grand jury system was originally formulated in an attempt to place a check over the power of prosecutors and protect those who should not be prosecuted. Instead grand juries typically give the prosecutor an indictment when desired in the vast majority of cases. The exception is when a police officer is the one being investigated. In these cases the prosecutor’s office often takes the part of the defense. In a typical grand jury case, Darren Wilson’s side of the story would not have been presented as it was in Ferguson.

FiveThirtyEight has some data on grand jury decisions:

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment. That means many routine cases never go before a grand jury. Still, legal experts agree that, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.

“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaperaccountssuggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.

If the grand jury system was changed so that the defense case was routinely heard, there might be benefits to this. However, it is not fair when one group of people receive this benefit but others do not. The system was essentially designed to protect the police and deny justice to victims such as Michael Brown.

Think Progress posted the above video on this topic by Phillip Johnson. This also explains how under normal circumstances a grand jury would have found probable cause for an indictment.

This does not necessarily mean that Darren Wison would have been convicted. There was a tremendous amount of evidence to be examined, some of it conflicting, and is possible that Wison might have ultimately been acquitted in a jury trial where the standard is not just probable cause but evidence of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.  There are legitimate questions to be reviewed as to how much discretion to give to police officers who feel the need to use deadly force in self defense versus the degree to which police should be expected to be able to handle an unarmed attacker without resorting to deadly force. The decision as to whether to indict Wilson should have been made by the same process as would have been used if anyone other than a police officer was the accused, followed by a jury trial to examine all the evidence from both sides.

Update: More Evidence For A Different System Of Justice For The Police

Update II: More Views On The Injustice In Ferguson

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A Bad Week Gets Worse: Sixth Circuit Court Upholds Bans On Gay Marriage

As if the news wasn’t bad enough on Tuesday, there was even more bad news this week. U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned rulings against bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. More on the decision at SCOTUSblog.

This decision runs counter to decisions in  4th, 7th, 9th and 10th circuit courts which struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. This led to neighboring states also eliminating their bans. Having these contradictory decisions means that the Supreme Court, which previously tried to avoid getting involved, will probably be forced to decide the issue.

The news might not be all bad. Doug Mataconis looked at previous decisions of the Supreme Court justices and believes that the court will rule in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. While there is no guarantee of this happening, if it does turn out this way we might actually have legalization of same-sex marriage nation wide during the current court session, speeding up what appears to be an inevitable trend.

If the Democrats had any guts they would speak out on this issue, questioning how the Republicans who claim to be the party of limited government can justify using the power of government to tell people who they may or may not marry. Of course as we were reminded by how they campaigned in the midterm elections, the Democrats do not have such guts. As the saying goes, we have one party with brains but no balls, and one party with no brains but which does have balls.

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Not Hearing Anything Lately From Republicans About Their Frivolous Suit Against Obama

Remember a few months ago when John Bohner was talking about filing a ridiculous law suit against Barack Obama? Politico points out that, despite the Republican hype, we haven’t heard anything about this suit recently:

House Speaker John Boehner came out swinging hard last June when he announced that his chamber would take President Barack Obama to court. The suit, charging that the president grossly exceeded his constitutional authority by failing to implement portions of the Obamacare law, was billed as an election-season rallying point for aggrieved Republicans. But days before the midterms the House’s legal guns seem to have fallen silent.

Lawyers close to the process said they originally expected the legal challenge to be filed in September but now they don’t expect any action before the elections.

Some attribute the delay to electoral politics — suggesting that Republicans were worried it could rile up the Democratic base — though the GOP is mum on why the suit has yet to be filed.

Whatever the reason, the delay means the core of the suit could effectively be moot before the Obama administration even has to respond to it in court. The case was expected to center on an employer mandate provision that Obama twice delayed but is now set to kick in for many employers on Jan. 1.

Bloomberg says the suit might be more trouble than it is worth for the Republicans:

Part of the problem may lie in the troubled history of the suit. In mid-September, the GOP’s law firm dropped the case over “political pressure,” according to a Republican aide speaking to Politico. That same week, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a lawsuit similar to the House’s from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Politically, the lawsuit presents catch-22s for the GOP. First, the party has to choose between upsetting conservatives (some of whom support impeachment) by not suing the president or bewildering the rest of the country by suing the president.

A July CNN/ORC poll found that 65 percent of Americans don’t think the president should be impeached, 57 percent don’t support the lawsuit, and less than half of respondents thought Obama has gone too far with his executive orders. Fifty-six percent of conservatives were in favor of the impeachment, compared to 26 percent of moderates.

The lawsuit was a compromise, but appeasement didn’t really work. The pro-impeachment conservative wing of the party has been given voice by Sarah Palin, who told Breitbart News that “you don’t bring a lawsuit to a gunfight.”

Second, if Boehner had gone through with suing the president before the midterm elections, it might have help Democrats fundraise and motivate the liberal base even more than it already had. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made $7.6 million in the month after the suit was announced, including $2.1 million in one weekend off emails warning of impeachment.

Plus Republicans might be embarrassed if small businessmen realize that the Republican Party is pursuing a lawsuit which seeks to punish Obama for trying to make conversion to the Affordable Care Act easier for small business, as many small business owners had requested. This hardly sounds like where the Republicans should draw the line in the sand against what they claim is tyranny from the Obama administration. Of course they had to settle for this suit as they couldn’t find anything of substance with which to pursue this absurd claim.

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Defending Abortion Rights

The current podcast in the playlist on my phone is an interview with Katha Politt on the Diane Rehm Show from last week. While I have only heard half of it so far, the author has made many good points regarding attitudes towards defending abortion rights, some of which are reflected in my recent post on the culture war. Pollitt defends abortion rights on principle, as opposed to taking a halfhearted position of approving of legalization while still acting like abortion is something shameful, while debunking the conservative framing on the issue. I anticipate hearing more good points in the remainder of the podcast and from reading her book.

I decided to mention this now, before concluding the podcast, as I just noticed that Hanna Rosin has an interview up at Slate reviewing her book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights. While I have not read the book, the review does give a good feel for the points I have heard so far in the interview and presumably reflects her book. The review begins:

I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions. Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal.

I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value. Because frankly, in 2014, it should be no big deal that in a movie a young woman has an abortion and it’s no big deal. We shouldn’t need a book explaining why abortion rights are important. We should be over that by now.

The reason we’re not, according to Pollitt, is that we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion, but that loud minority has beaten the rest of us into submission with their fetus posters and their absolutism and their infiltration of American politics. They have landed us in the era of the “awfulization” of abortion, Pollitt writes, where even pro-choicers are “falling all over themselves” to use words like “thorny,” “vexed,” “complex,” and “difficult” instead of doing what they should be doing, which is saying out loud that abortion is a positive social good.

Pollitt aims her book at the “muddled middle” who have been infected by the awfulization without thinking about it that much. To win them back she’s crafted a lengthy Socratic response dissecting the contradictions on the pro-life side. If you know Pollitt’s writing at all, it’s no surprise what she believes. But by the end of the book, it’s a surprise to realize that while the fight over abortion has been going on for more than 40 years, we’ve all forgotten what’s at stake. The left especially has lost sight of its original animating purpose.

Later in the review:

Pollitt spends significant energy dissecting the pro-life side’s contradictions. This largely involves explaining how the concept of personhood, when applied to a fetus, makes very little sense. She cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as “bad as killing a person already born.” But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart. The pro-life position, she concludes, involves a reflexive moralism but doesn’t really reflect what people know to be true, which is that the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship, unlike any other.

More at The American Prospect, Cosmopolitan, and  Elle.

I know it might not necessarily be right to recommend a book based upon listening to half a podcast and only reading the reviews of others, but this book certainly does appear worth reading. I just placed my order for a copy.

Update: In related news, the Supreme Court has blocked portions of the restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas.

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By Not Acting, Supreme Court Puts United States On A Path Towards Marriage Equality

By deciding to allow appeals court rulings in five states stand, the Supreme Court has essentially put the United States on a path to make this legal in most, if not all, of the United States. While same-sex marriage only directly affects a small percentage of the country, it has become a litmus test to distinguish left from right, and demonstrate the emptiness of Republican claims of supporting smaller government and more freedom.

For liberals, same-sex marriage is a fundamental matter of individual liberty. Conservatives, who often fail to understand liberal concepts of liberty and equal treatment under the law, limit their support for freedom to behaviors they approve of. Often to conservatives, freedom of religion means the freedom to impose their religious views upon others.

This affects far more than those in the five states where federal appeals courts have already ruled that bans on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. From FiveThirtyEight:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to decline hearing a series of appeals cases on same-sex marriage will have the effect of immediately legalizing gay marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. When combined with the 19 states (and the District of Columbia) that had previously legalized same-sex marriage, these states have a collective population of roughly 165 million, according to 2013 census figures.

That means for the first time, same-sex marriage is legal for the majority of the U.S. population. The 26 states where the practice is not legal have a total population of about 151 million.

The Supreme Court’s decision may also lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming. Those states have an additional 25 million people combined. If they follow suit, 30 states and the District, totaling about 60 percent of the U.S. population, would allow same-sex marriage.

SCOTUSblog also states that this will extend legalization of same-sex marriage to thirty states and  “there are four other federal appeals courts that are currently considering challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.” One implication of this is that, “A ruling by at least one of them that states can prohibit same-sex marriage would create the kind of disagreement among the lower courts that might spur the Court to grant review.”

The New York Times thinks that the result of today’s ruling will  ultimately be expanding legalization of same-sex marriage nation-wide in a matter comparable to elimination of laws prohibiting interracial marriage, with the Supreme Court unlikely to rule against this in the future.

Should the court then take up a same-sex marriage case next year or in another term, the justices may be reluctant to overturn what has become law in the majority of American states, said Walter E. Dellinger III, who was an acting United States solicitor general in the Clinton administration.

“The more liberal justices have been reluctant to press this issue to an up-or-down vote until more of the country experiences gay marriage,” Mr. Dellinger said. “Once a substantial part of the country has experienced gay marriage, then the court will be more willing to finish the job.”

There is precedent for such an approach: The court waited to strike down bans on interracial marriage until 1967, when the number of states allowing such unions had grown to 34, even though interracial marriage was still opposed by a significant majority of Americans. But popular opinion has moved much faster than the courts on same-sex marriage, with many Americans and large majorities of young people supporting it.

Buzzfeed has a listing of the legal status of same-sex marriage in each state.

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Another Activist Conservative Judge Attempts To Destroy Obamacare

A federal judge in Oklahoma, appointed by George W. Bush, has repeated the same ridiculous argument given by previous activist conservative judges to attempt to stop Obamacare. The claim is that the Affordable Care Act only provides for subsidies for policies purchased on state-run exchanges and not the federal exchange. This is based upon taking one portion of the law, which is poorly written and might suggest this, while ignoring all the other portions of the law which do not make such limitations on who can qualify to receive subsidies.

Previously the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia ruled that subsidies should be available for policy holders regardless of whether they were purchased on a state or the federally run exchange.  The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled in the opposite direction, with two Republicans voting that subsidies should be limited to policies purchased on state exchanges and one Democrat backing the Affordable Care Act. Subsequently the court vacated that decision in order to have the full court rule on this.

Think Progress has more on the case, and the arguments against the view which has only been supported by Republican judges.

The partisan divide on this issue raises some concern about how the Supreme Court might rule. I suspect that Chief Justice John Roberts would again break with the other Republicans and oppose such an effort which would destroy Obamacare as he has done in the past. If for no other reason, he might not want his court to go down in history for keeping the United States as the only major industrial nation without anything approaching universal health care based upon such a frivolous argument. However it is not entirely reassuring to have to hope that Roberts will vote in a reasonable manner.

While Republicans in public would probably support destroying Obamacare in this manner, those who are not totally out of touch with reality might actually prefer that this case does not succeed. While they wouldn’t mind seeing their party take credit for destroying Obamacare in general, despite how successful the law has been, would they really want to be responsible for increasing taxes on millions of Americans by taking away their tax subsidies which help pay for health care coverage?

Republican backers in the insurance industry are also likely to want to see this case fail. The worst case scenario for the insurance industry would be if they are required to provide health insurance to everyone who applies without regard to pre-existing conditions but if they don’t see increased business, and expansion of the risk pool, from sales to those receiving subsidies.

 

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Kansas Supreme Court Keeps Kansas In Play For Control Of Senate

It continues to look like Kansas might have a bearing on which party controls the Senate. As I previously discussed, with the Democratic candidate dropping out of the Kansas Senate race, independent Greg Orman has a real chance of defeating Republican Pat Roberts. Multiple polls have showed Orman defeating Roberts in a head to head race, but Roberts led in a three way race. After Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out, Orman led in the polls but the anti-Roberts vote was split when Taylor was listed.

In order to improve Roberts’ chances, Kansas Secretary of State Chris Korbach (who is also a member of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee) played politics and refused to take Taylor’s name off the ballot. The Kansas Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Taylor’s name should be removed from the ballot now that he has dropped out.

Kansas election law does provide for the ability of the Democratic Party to name a replacement after Taylor dropped out, but obviously they have no intention of doing so. Korbach is claming that the Democrats are required to name a replacement, but it is rather absurd that a party must run a candidate if they do not desire to do so.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert from the University of California, Irvine, said that it was unlikely that Kobach would be able to force the Democrats to name a replacement for Taylor.

“If Democrats refuse to name or no candidate agrees to serve, then what? It seems like it would be a tough First Amendment claim to FORCE a party to name a replacement,” Hasen wrote in an analysis. “Perhaps if Democrats do nothing Kobach will realize there’s not much he can do and drop the issue.”

Despite his current lead, it is still possible that the Republicans can hold onto the seat. The national party is taking over management of Roberts’ campaign, and has called in Bob Dole to help secure the seat. Even if Orman maintains his current lead in the polls and wins, there is no guaranteed that he will caucus with the Democrats. With the battle for control of the Senate so close, it is certainly possible that he could wind up casting the deciding vote.

Update: Of the various reactions to this situation, the most interesting was for the Democrats to tell Kobach that they nominated him for the Senate seat. We won’t see that happen. Kobach has given up and is putting out the ballots with no Democratic candidate listed.

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Appeals Court Strikes Down Gay Marriage Ban In Wisconsin and Indiana

On Thursday Judge Richard Posner, a Reagan appointee, wrote the decision after the The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago  stuck down the bans against same sex marriage in Wisconsin and Indiana.There were a number of arguments in his decision which were interesting to read, and which might have an impact when this issue inevitably reaches the Supreme Court. The Dish collected some selections. First, via Slog:

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight-forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously. To the extent that children are better off in families in which the parents are married, they are better off whether they are raised by their biological parents or by adoptive parents. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny…

The harm to homosexuals (and, as we’ll emphasize, to their adopted children) of being denied the right to marry is considerable. Marriage confers respectability on a sexual relationship; to exclude a couple from marriage is thus to deny it a coveted status. Because homosexuality is not a voluntary condition and homosexuals are among the most stigmatized, misunderstood, and discriminated-against minorities in the history of the world, the disparagement of their sexual orientation, implicit in the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples, is a source of continuing pain to the homosexual community. Not that allowing same-sex marriage will change in the short run the negative views that many Americans hold of same-sex marriage. But it will enhance the status of these marriages in the eyes of other Americans, and in the long run it may convert some of the opponents of such marriage by demonstrating that homosexual married couples are in essential respects, notably in the care of their adopted children, like other married couples.

Rob Tisinai quoted an argument to debunk the  “responsible procreation argument” which he first explained: “that the purpose of marriage is to encourage responsible procreation, and because only straight couples can accidentally procreate, only straight couples need the bond of marriage to keep them together and set up a home for the kids. Gay couples, who only have kids on purpose, don’t need any such prodding.” From Posner’s decision:

Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.

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