Clinton Ordered To Provide Written Testimony Regarding Use Of Private Email

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Hillary Clinton might never get past the email scandal. The New York Times reports that a federal judge has ordered her to provide written testimony:

A federal judge on Friday ordered Hillary Clinton to provide written testimony under oath about why she set up a private computer server to send and receive emails while secretary of state, ensuring that the issue will continue to dog her presidential campaign until the eve of the election.

In a brief ruling issued on Friday afternoon, the judge, Emmet G. Sullivan of Federal District Court in Washington, approved a motion by the conservative advocacy organization Judicial Watch to pursue its vigorous campaign to expose Mrs. Clinton’s use of the private server. In addition to requiring her testimony in writing, the judge allowed the group to depose a senior State Department aide who had warned two subordinates not to question her email practices.

Both the the State Department Inspector General report and the FBI statement on the investigation revealed considerable impropriety on Clinton’s part, even if the FBI did not recommend criminal prosecution.

It was also revealed yesterday that Hillary Clinton had told the FBI that she used private email on the advice of Colin Powell. Powell denied any recollection of the conversation and expressed disapproval of the use of private email for classified information.

In an update to a post from earlier in the week, the sailor who tried to use the Hillary Clinton defense for mishandling classified information was unsuccessful. He has been sentenced to one year in prison. There were many differences in the cases, but the most significant is that he was a lowly Navy sailor and Clinton is in line to be Commander in Chief.

Adnan Syed, Subject of Serial Podcast, To Receive New Trial

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If you listened to Season 1 of Serial, this will be major news. If you didn’t, the case probably won’t matter to you. The podcast looked at the case of Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murdering his girl friend, and cast doubts as to his guilt. The publicity from the podcast led to a reexamination of the case. Today a Baltimore judge vacated his conviction and granted him a new trial. The Baltimore Sun reports:

A Baltimore judge on Thursday ordered a new trial for convicted murderer Adnan Syed, adding a new chapter to a two-decade-old case propelled to international attention by the popular “Serial” podcast.

Syed, now 35, has been serving a life sentence since 2000, when he was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee the year before. The body of Lee, a classmate of Syed at Woodlawn High School, was found buried in Baltimore’s Leakin Park.

Retired Judge Martin Welch, who had denied Syed’s previous request for a new trial, vacated Syed’s conviction Thursday and said questions about cell phone tower evidence should have been raised by his trial team.

The ruling came four months after a hearing that also featured testimony from an alibi witness who had been featured in “Serial.”

The podcast was downloaded millions of times, drawing legions of devoted fans who scrutinized the case online.

Good News From Supreme Court On Abortion & The Typical News On Trump and Clinton

Abortion Sign

It was a good day with regards to reproductive rights as the Supreme Court struck down a law in Texas designed to restrict abortions by imposing absurd requirements on abortion clinics designed to make it too difficult to operate.  The New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.

The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion…

he Supreme Court on Monday struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state to about 10 from what was once a high of roughly 40.

The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion rights since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. It applied a skeptical and exacting version of that decision’s “undue burden” standard to find that the restrictions in Texas went too far.

The decision on Monday means that similar restrictions in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion..

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

This law came from Republicans who claim to both oppose over-regulation of business and government take-overs of health care.

The New York Times also points out that the Court has leaned left with eight members when it avoids a tie.

Otherwise it was a typical day. Donald Trump said more stupid things, this time calling Elizabeth Warren a racist. Plus we have further evidence that Clinton was lying about her email as more examples were found of work-related email which appear to have been destroyed with the email Clinton claimed was personal. These stories come after too many examples of Donald Trump saying stupid things to list, and a similar report on Clinton’s email three days ago.

Implications Of The Death Of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead at a Texas ranch where he was staying while on a hunting trip at age 79. He was appointed to the Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986. His conservative rulings have had a profound, and negative, effect on the country during that time.

The legal and political ramifications are likely to be enormous. The next several months could be dominated by a fight over confirmation of Obama’s appointment, likely expanding the range of issues which the presidential candidates must discuss over the next several months. Voters might think more about issues such as reproductive rights and voting rights, which could be greatly influenced by the balance of the court, during the election year.

Republicans might try to prevent any Obama appointee from being confirmed hoping that a Republican could be elected an make the next choice. Such obstructionism might also backfire against the Republicans, along with demonstrating how many of their views are not accepted by a majority of Americans. It is also possible that Democratic Senators will block right wing choices should there be a Republican president in 2017.

For the current year (and possibly beyond) this means one less conservative vote on matters the Supreme Court is now considering, including  abortion rights,  affirmative action, and another challenge to Obamacare. I also wonder to what degree Scalia was able to influence any swing justices to side with the conservatives. There is also the possibility of some matters coming down to a four to four tie.

The Washington Post had an article in December suggesting that  tie votes on the court, due to a vacancy, will favor liberals, even if the author doesn’t seem happy with that prospect:

Thanks to a wealth of recent Democratic appointments on the lower courts, letting the Supreme Court go down to eight justices would favor liberals. Conservatives wouldn’t like the regime of liberal rulings that would govern in most of the nation without Supreme Court oversight. And the prospect of liberal dominance may actually stiffen the spine of the historically more accommodating Senate Democrats…

A Supreme Court vacancy would favor liberals, because an eight-member court would often divide 4 to 4, affirming the decisions of the predominantly liberal lower courts.

Ties would be most common if the vacant seat belonged to swing voter Kennedy. If Scalia were the one to leave, Kennedy’s conservative tilt would sometimes generate the ties, barring the occasional walkabout from Chief Justice John Roberts. And if Ginsburg or Breyer left, Kennedy would side with the three remaining liberals often enough to sometimes tie the court in important cases. In addition to his much-touted vote for same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, Kennedy has voted with the liberals in civil rights and environmental cases, to rein in partisan redistricting and to grant Guantanamo prisoners the right to challenge their detention.

A tied Supreme Court traditionally issues a per curiam, or unsigned, decision affirming the ruling of the lower court. So under an eight-member court that regularly produced split decisions, each circuit would be like a little Supreme Court of its own. Obama has overseen a significant transformation of the federal courts, with nine circuits now dominated by Democratic appointments and only four by Republicans. On really important cases, the circuit courts are likely to meet en banc, with most or all of the judges sitting, meaning raw numerical dominance will always matter.

The 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th circuits, where conservative decisions would stand in the case of Supreme Court ties, mostly cover red states in the South and Midwest. Only some of the Great Lakes states are caught offsides. Meanwhile, the blue states on the coasts, along with purple Western states such as Colorado, are in liberal circuits. But here’s the kicker: Since most of the circuits are controlled by liberals, much of the conservative heartland is marooned in blue circuits. Arizona, Idaho and Montana are in the much-reversed liberal 9th Circuit. The entire Southeast, from Virginia to Florida, is covered by two circuits liberalized by Obama appointees. One liberal circuit, the 10th, has just one reliably blue state, New Mexico.

Update: Mitch McConnel says that a new justice should not be chosen until after the election.  SCOTUSbLog has more on cases currently under consideration. President Obama is about to speak as I am typing this, and is expected to say he will be nominating someone despite GOP objections.

Head Of Organization Spreading False Claims About Planned Parenthood Indicted By Texas Grand Jury

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There was an unexpected turn of events in a grand jury investigation in Texas regarding the bogus charges against Planned Parenthood. The grand jury not only declared there was no wrong doing on the part of Planned Parenthood, but indicted the director of the group which spread the debunked claims that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.  The Washington Post reports:

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said David Daleiden, the director of the Center for Medical Progress, faces a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to buying human tissue.

Sandra Merritt, one of Daleiden’s employees, was also indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record.

The grand jury cleared Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast of any wrongdoing.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson said in a statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

Republican candidates were not happy. Think Progress quotes some of them.

Supreme Court To Decide On Texas Anti-Abortion Law

Planned Parenthood

Republican efforts in recent years to restrict access to abortion have generally been at the state level (along with debunked attacks on Planned Parenthood), but now the Texas law will have national significance with the Supreme Court deciding to hear the case. The New York Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear its first major abortion case since 2007, one that has the potential to affect millions of women and to revise the constitutional principles governing abortion rights…

The case is a challenge to a Texas law that would leave the state with about 10 abortion clinics, down from more than 40. Such a change, the abortion providers who are plaintiffs in the case told the justices, would have a vast practical impact.

“Texas is the second-most-populous state in the nation — home to 5.4 million women of reproductive age,” they wrote in their brief urging the court to hear the case. “More than 60,000 of those women choose to have an abortion each year.”

The case concerns two parts of a state law that imposes strict requirements on abortion providers. It was passed by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.

One part of the law requires all clinics in the state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Officials in Texas said that the contested provisions were needed to protect women’s health. Abortion providers responded that the regulations were expensive, unnecessary and intended to put many of them out of business.

Think Progress has debunked claims of supporters of this law that the strict requirements are reasonable:

Yet, while these may seem like health regulations at first glance, they do little, if anything, to actually advance women’s health. As the Texas Hospital Association explains, for example, “thousands of physicians operate clinics and provide services in those clinics but do not have hospital admitting privileges.” Hospitals provide care to women who experience complications during an abortion — complications, it should be noted, that are extraordinarily rare — regardless of whether the physician who performed the abortion has admitting privileges or not. Similarly, the ambulatory surgical center requirement applies even in abortion clinics that do not perform surgeries — many abortions are induced by medication alone. The laws, in other words, impose burdensome and expensive restrictions on abortion clinics even when those restrictions bear no relationship whatsoever to advancing women’s health.

There is little doubt that these restrictions were written by opponents of the right of a woman to control her own body, with the goal of making it harder for women to obtain an abortion by causing multiple clinics which provide abortions to shut down. Opponents of the law expect that those clinics which do remain will be limited to the metropolitan areas of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. This will leave many women in Texas without a nearby site to obtain abortions.

Justice Department Brief Saying Clinton Could Destroy Personal Email Means Very Little

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Clinton apologists who have been cherry picking statements to defend her have another claim which I’m sure we will hear about endlessly, even if it doesn’t mean much of anything. Justice Department lawyers, basically doing their job in defending the Obama administration from a suit filed against them said, “There is no question that former Secretary Clinton had authority to delete personal emails without agency supervision — she appropriately could have done so even if she were working on a government server.”

This doesn’t really change anything. First of all, this is an argument made by attorneys whose job it was to protect the State Department from the FOIA suit. Having this statement made does not mean that the judge hearing the case will accept this view.

This argument also is peripheral to the main points of the email scandal. Yes, there is no question under ordinary circumstances that Clinton could have deleted any personal email. However, we are not dealing with ordinary circumstances. It has already been well-established that Clinton violated rules in effect as of 2009 when she used her private server exclusively for government business and when she failed to turn the email over to be archived while in office. References to previous fact check articles on this, along with statements from Justice Department and State Department officials who confirm Clinton violated the policies, have been posted previously including here and here. Among other statements, the top Freedom of Information Act official at the Justice Department has clearly stated that Clinton was in violation of the rules

This is also not an ordinary situation as it has already been established that email related to Libya and terrorism has been altered and has been among the email which Clinton deleted claiming to be personal. While normally a government employee can legally destroy personal email, it is up to the judge in the case to decide if this is altered by her violation of the rules regarding use of private email and by the fact that she has deleted non-personal email among the email claimed to be personal.

Even if Clinton manages to get away with this through any legal technicalities, it does not absolve her for the unethical conduct exhibited, along with the other policies she has violated. Getting around this on any legal technicalities would be damaging to concepts of government transparency and the Freedom of Information Act. This would not affect the other unethical actions and violations of government policy by Clinton, or the other court cases and investigations in progress.

News Briefs: Donald Trump, Kim Davis, and Tom Brady

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A few brief comments on items in the news today:

Donald Trump signed the pledge that he will support the Republican candidate and not run as a third party candidate. He says, “no circumstances under which I would tear up that pledge. … I have no intention of changing my mind.” However, there is no way to hold him to it. It is not as if they could penalize him by taking away delegates at the convention if he loses the nomination and goes decides to run as an independent. At the moment Trump has a strong lead in the polls. The question remains as to whether the party will unite behind someone else as the weaker candidates are driven from the race.

By now I’m sure that everyone has heard that Kim Davis is to be jailed for contempt of court for refusing to obey the law and issue marriage certificates for same-sex couples. Republicans, who see religious liberty as the freedom to impose their religious views on others, are upset with this. GOP candidates including  Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul are coming to her defense. The main reason I am bringing this up is that I’m seeing a lot of comments on social media suggesting that the logical move would be to fire her. She is an elected official and cannot be fired.

The other major legal decision of the day was that a federal judge has thrown out the four game suspension of Tom Brady over deflategate. The NFL is appealing the decision.

Two Liberal Decisions From A Conservative Court

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It has been a good week for liberal decisions form a conservative court. Yesterday, as I was certain they would, they threw out the absurd case against the Affordable Care Act. I’m not sure that this really changes anything. Conservatives will continue to complain about the law, but lack any effective way to repeal it, and certainly have no alternative.

The case made no sense and if Roberts had wanted to destroy Obamacare he would have done so when they ruled on the individual mandate. In this case it isn’t so much that the Supreme Court has become more liberal, but that the Supreme Court is not willing to go along with every ridiculous case brought by conservatives. Earlier in the week, The New York Times showed that the court has made more liberal decisions this year. Brendan Nyhan followed this up discussing a reason why the court might appear more liberal when it is not:

In a 2009 article, the political scientists Kevin T. McGuire, Georg Vanberg, Charles E. Smith Jr. and Gregory A. Caldeira proposed a theory that provides an alternate explanation to liberal drift. They predicted that conservatives would press their luck to take advantage when they had a majority on the court, appealing more cases they lost in lower courts. (Conversely, liberals would be less likely to appeal cases because they were more likely to prefer lower-court decisions and to fear creating damaging precedents.) Mr. McGuire and his co-authors then showed empirically that this process increased the number of conservative reversals of lower-court rulings but also increased the number of cases in which a more liberal ruling was affirmed because litigants guessed wrong about how far the court was willing to go.

Their prediction seems to fit nicely with recent evidence. The court has reversed lower-court decisions and decided in favor of conservatives on high-profile cases concerning issues like campaign finance and voting rights. But Justice Kennedy and/or Chief Justice Roberts have joined the liberal wing to affirm more liberal lower-court rulings in cases like today’s decisions on health care and housing.

The case also did show a degree of sanity on the court in deciding against an argument which only bat-shit crazy conservatives(such as George Will) could accept. It also demonstrated that at least one justice was persuadable as it takes four justices to accept a case, and only three stuck with this argument in the end.

The decision in favor of same-sex marriage was also predictable but is far more significant. It really does change the status quo for those living in states where same-sex marriage has remained illegal. Andrew Sullivan returned to blogging to describe what this meant to him:

We are not disordered or sick or defective or evil – at least no more than our fellow humans in this vale of tears. We are born into family; we love; we marry; we take care of our children; we die. No civil institution is related to these deep human experiences more than civil marriage and the exclusion of gay people from this institution was a statement of our core inferiority not just as citizens but as human beings. It took courage to embrace this fact the way the Supreme Court did today…

I think of the gay kids in the future who, when they figure out they are different, will never know the deep psychic wound my generation – and every one before mine – lived through: the pain of knowing they could never be fully part of their own family, never be fully a citizen of their own country. I think, more acutely, of the decades and centuries of human shame and darkness and waste and terror that defined gay people’s lives for so long. And I think of all those who supported this movement who never lived to see this day, who died in the ashes from which this phoenix of a movement emerged. This momentous achievement is their victory too – for marriage, as Kennedy argued, endures past death.

This case also shows how the Republican Party has moved to the right while the nation has become more liberal on social issues. Compare the views of the Roberts Court with this year’s presidential candidates which are summarized at BuzzFeed. In 2004 Republicans successfully used proposals to ban same sex marriage to turn out the vote in their favor. While opposition might help some candidates in Republican primaries, it will also hurt them in the general election.

In 2013 I had posted a prediction from George Clooney which is far closer to coming true:

 

Bernie Sanders Presents Welcome Alternative To Hillary Clinton’s Conservative Record On Civil Liberties

LANHAM, MD - MAY 5:  U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks at a town hall meeting at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 26 office May 5, 2015 in Lanham, Maryland. Sanders, who announced announced his candidacy for president on April 30, discussed a range of issues and took questions from the audience. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

While economic differences between Hillary Clinton and her more liberal challengers for the Democratic nomination have received the most attention, Clinton’s poor record on civil liberties issues is another reason why many liberals find her to be an unacceptable candidate. While Clinton has supported the Patriot Act, Bernie Sanders has voted against it. He has also opposed the abuses in NSA surveillance, and written the following forTime in response to the appeals court ruling that the surveillance is not legal:

I welcome a federal appeals court ruling that the National Security Agency does not have the legal authority to collect and store data on all U.S. telephone calls. Now Congress should rewrite the expiring eavesdropping provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act and include strong new limits to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

Let me be clear: We must do everything we can to protect our country from the serious potential of another terrorist attack. We can and must do so, however, in a way that also protects the constitutional rights of the American people and maintains our free society.

Do we really want to live in a country where the NSA gathers data on virtually every single phone call in the United States—including as many as 5 billion cellphone records per day? I don’t. Do we really want our government to collect our emails, see our text messages, know everyone’s Internet browsing history, monitor bank and credit card transactions, keep tabs on people’s social networks? I don’t.

Unfortunately, this sort of Orwellian surveillance, conducted under provisions of the Patriot Act, invades the privacy of millions of law-abiding Americans…

Hillary Clinton has supported the Patriot Act and, in contrast to Sanders, has been evasive when asked about abuses by the NSA–most likley waiting to see which position polls the best. Clinton has had a terrible record on First Amendment and civil liberties issues even beyond her support for the Patriot Act. As I’ve discussed previously, Clinton’s poor record regarding civil liberties and separation of church and state includes her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act , a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, leading a campaign to censor video games and introducing a bill making flag burning a felony.