Tag Archives: justice

Racism and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

28 Oct
Define Refuge

Define Refuge

I was more than just a little bit disturbed yesterday afternoon upon hearing that all seven of the white terrorists who were armed and held the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge hostage, destroying many ancient Native artifacts during their occupation, were found not guilty of conspiracy. Ammon Bundy and his gang of heavily armed white terrorists occupied the Wildlife Refuge for 41 days and were found not guilty on all counts.

Here were the charges brought: conspiring to impede federal employees at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge through intimidation, threat or force stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Four of the seven defendants were charged with possessing guns in a federal facility. Two of the defendants faced an additional charge of theft of government and destruction of property. How is it that they were acquitted of all charges? In what universe does this make any sense? If this were a group of people of color, can we really believe they would have been treated the same way and accommodated in the same manner?

This is particularly difficult to understand juxtaposed what is currently happening in North Dakota, where unarmed Native protesters are being arrested as they protest the destruction of sacred burial grounds on Native land — land that was guaranteed to remain Native in an 1850 treaty. Protesters have been attacked and arrested by police with military tanks. Native unarmed and peaceful protesters were attacked with pepper spray and police dogs.

It is also difficult not to contrast the treatment of Bundy and his fellow whackadoodles with the treatment of unarmed black people in America being killed. I am thinking of the shooting of physical therapist, Charles Kinsey, who on his back waving his hands asking, “please don’t shoot me.” and the over 130 unarmed black men who have been killed this year.

I invite everyone to watch this great video by Dena Takruri who ask the question: “What if the Oregon Occupiers were Black, or Muslim?” Here is the link.

I wonder if we can all sit with some discomfort with the verdicts for Bundy and his accomplices. Can we look at ways we can create conversations  around the issues of race, gender, power, and equity?

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Bigot of the Week Award: June 28, The Supreme Corruption

28 Jun
Bigot of the Week

Bigot of the Week

The Supreme Court wrapped up its judicial year this week with a number of major decisions. On the four that got the most press — and had the largest impact — they managed one disaster (Voting Rights), one victory (DOMA), and two adequate indecisions (affirmative action and Prop 8). As those rulings were rolled out, however, the aggressive activists on the right of the bench bared their ugly souls once again.

The most vile decision was Shelby County v Holder, in which the Four Injustices of the Apocalypse were joined by two-faced Kennedy in gutting the Voting Rights Act. Despite the fact that the VRA was renewed unanimously by the Senate and by an overwhelming majority in the House after extensive research, the Court ruled that Congress acted capriciously and violated States’ rights. That rationale fails to disguise the clear desire to allow states to practice voter suppression, disproportionately impacting marginalized populations which coincidentally vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.  Talk about intentional disenfranchisement!

Chief Racist Roberts penned the poison decision, helping secure his horrible legacy. He also wrote an ugly dissent in Windsor v United States, the case that overturned DOMA.

Speaking of ugly legacies, Justice Scalia managed to spew his usual bile with flair and volume. He continues to argue that calling a bigoted law bigoted is biased against bigots. That’s some weird reasoning. He also displayed his split personality in the Shelby and Windsor rulings. To support racism, he trumpets States’ rights and blames Congressional overreach. To support homophobia, he says that Congress should have the final say, and the will of the states that support LGBT rights be damned. In a curious bit of double-speak, his Windsor dissent includes:

It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere “primary” in its role.

That is one huge spleen that Scalia has!  Justice Alito-Mussolini, joined in the discrimination chorus. He also demonstrated his ongoing behavior as a petulant brat. During Justice Ginsburg’s scathing Shelby dissent, he rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders. He displayed similar disrespect to opinions offered by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor on other matters. Racist, homophobe, misogynist — score three for Alito, but of course “he does make the trains run on time.”

Justice Thomas remained inert, participating only far enough to support a version of the Constitution that must have been written in 1276, content to continue suppressing the rights of others now that he’s got his lifetime gig.

What a horrible example of judicial activism and abuse of power!

There’s plenty of dishonorable mention to spread around, as well, so let’s just highlight two magnificent examples.

  1. Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose efforts to crush Planned Parenthood and severely restrict reproductive choice in his state were thwarted by true democracy in action, chose to demonize state Sen. Wendy Davis. He argued that she’s lucky she wasn’t aborted by her unmarried mother and should take a lesson from that. My he is Klassy!
  2. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R – What’s the Matter with Kansas) followed the DOMA decision by introducing a new bill to ban same-sex marriage in the U.S. Constitution. I guess the House didn’t waste enough taxpayer time and money defending the indefensible.

Many of the usual homophobes spewed their bigotry in despair after the Windsor ruling as well. Rather than bother with names and quotes, let’s take a lesson from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, whose flawless response to their angry bloviating was a calm, “Who cares?”

Women’s History Month 2013: Justice Sonia Sotomayor

20 Mar

JusticeSotomayorToday we honor and celebrate a woman dedicated to justice who is working hard to restore integrity to our nation’s highest court — quite the ambitious task while Scalia is on the bench. Sonia Sotomayor was born in the Bronx in 1954 to parents who had recently moved to New York from Puerto Rico. Her mother and grandmother stressed the importance of education, and she worked hard in school, initially hoping to be a detective (inspired by Nancy Drew). A Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis at age seven led her family and doctors to recommend a less strenuous career choice, so she decided she wanted to be a judge–I wonder if her parents detected the irony here?

She attended Princeton, where she was a distinct minority both as a woman and a Latina. She received her undergraduate degree in History, winning numerous scholastic prizes in her final year and graduating summa cum laude. She immediately started law school at Yale, where she was once again in the distinct minority. Attending on a scholarship, she was stunned when a major law firm suggested during a recruitment dinner that she was at Yale solely because she was Latina. She terminated the interview and filed a formal complaint, resulting in a favorable ruling from a campus tribunal and a formal apology from the firm.  Brava, Justice Sotomayor!

After receiving her J.D. and passing the New York Bar, she began work as an assistant district attorney, focusing on crimes against persons and police brutality. She developed a reputation for going wherever she needed to go to get evidence, regardless of the neighborhood. After a few years she went into private practice and was appointed to a number of Boards and task forces by New York governors and New York City mayors. She expanded her reputation as a strong advocate for the marginalized–a voice for social justice!

In 1991 she realized her childhood dream and became a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the first Hispanic federal judge in the state. Six years later she was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District. She faced a brutal confirmation hearing, with Senate Republicans stalling for months and grilling her on her decisions favoring gay rights and due process. Once seated, she expanded her reputation as a strong, fair judge interested in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable; imagine that, a judge working for civil rights for all?

Sonia Sotomayor became a Supreme Court Justice in 2009. She settled in quickly and works hard to ensure that the loud, conservative voices on the Court don’t dominate when cases come forward. She made news recently for harshly criticizing  a Texas prosecutor whose argument relied on racist stereotyping. During hearings on a case regarding the Voting Rights Act, she refused to allow an Alabama attorney to hide his county’s racist history.

Why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?

When Justices Scalia and Alito tried to bail the attorney out with far-fetched hypotheticals, she weighed in again.

The problem with those hypotheticals is obvious […] it’s a real record as to what Alabama has done to earn its place on the list. Discrimination is discrimination, and what Congress said is it continues.

Thank you, Justice Sotomayor, for standing up for those who most need it. May your time on the Court be long and productive!

Defense of Marriage Act Gets Even More Indefensible

22 Oct

Chief Judge Jacobs insists on Heightened Scrutiny

This week yet another court rejected the horrific “Defense” of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA. Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled Thursday that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. That’s the section that forbids the Federal government from providing benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their state of residence.

There are a couple of remarkable things about this ruling. The first is Chief Judge Jacobs himself. He is an extremely conservative judge, first appointed to the federal bench by George H.W. Bush, not known for his prowess in appointing judges, a la Clarence Thomas. His rulings over the years are aggressively pro-business and have little regard for marginalized populations. His opinions are often in the mode of people like Antonin Scalia.

Even more remarkable, Jacobs is the second judge in a few weeks not just to strike down DOMA, but to do so by invoking “heightened scrutiny” for LGBT Americans. This is a particularly strong ruling, requiring that laws negatively impacting the gay community must pass several tests relating to government interests before even being considered constitutional. It’s the same level of scrutiny required when looking at laws that impact people based on their race. In all four factors in Windsor v. United States, Jacobs finds that the matter requires heightened scrutiny.

A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.

This is the fourth case this year to strike down one or more parts of DOMA. Three have been decided by fairly conservative justices, using rationale that relies on states rights and other principles tied to conservative jurisprudence. All four are bound for appeals to the Supreme Court. Given the way things have been set up, there’s a reasonable chance that at least one of the conservative justices would uphold the ruling(s), gutting or overturning DOMA. It’s not over ’til the fat justice sings, but something significant is bound to happen during this SCOTUS year.

As the country grows increasingly supportive of marriage equality, the Republican tactics of marginalization look more vicious and archaic than ever. John Boehner’s House has spent nearly $1.5 MILLION in taxpayer funds to defend DOMA. He’s lost every time and has just about expended the whole amount budgeted for bigotry. Will he try to authorize more to argue his case before the Supreme Court?  To add to further to the tragedy that is Boehner, we have Presidential candidate Romney running on a platform to strip people of civil rights, specifically women, the LGBT community, and anyone that might fall into the sad 47%.

Celebrating Thurgood Marshall

30 Aug

On this date in 1967, civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall became the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court. In his 24 years on the Court, he was a stalwart defender of the oppressed, a strong voice for social justice, and a strong voice for the evolutionary model of Constitutional law clearly intended at the founding of our country. He wisely observed in a U.S. Bicentennial speech:

the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights we hold as fundamental today.

Born in 1908 in Baltimore, Marshall was the son of a railroad porter and a teacher and the grandson of slaves. His parents instilled in him a deep appreciation of American citizenship and the rule of law in a just society. He graduated from Lincoln University, where he was a member of the first black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha. He intended to go to law school at his hometown University of Maryland, but was turned away because of their strict segregation policy. He instead went to Howard University School of Law, graduating first in his class in 1933. Three years later, he represented Donald Gaines Murray in a case that forced Maryland to eliminate the policy that had kept him from its law school.

Marshall undertook that case as part of his work with the NAACP. He quickly rose to become their Chief Counsel. At the age of 32, he won his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, a due process case involving undue police pressure on four African American men. He went on to argue 32 cases before the Court, more than anyone else, winning a stunning 29 of those cases. The most famous of those, building on his success in Maryland, was Brown v. Board of Education. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, resorting to a recess appointment when a group of southern senators held up his confirmation. After four years on that bench, he was tapped by President Johnson to become the first African American U.S. Solicitor General. During his time in that role, he won an enviable 14 of the 19 cases he defended.

Strong-willed and successful, Marshall recognized that the American dream is not accomplished solely by personal determination.

None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.

He also knew how much minority oppression worked against too many Americans, saying

A child born to a Black mother in a state like Mississippi… has exactly the same rights as a white baby born to the wealthiest person in the United States. It’s not true, but I challenge anyone to say it is not a goal worth working for.

With the famous observation that it was “the right thing to do, the right time to do it, the right man and the right place,” LBJ put Marshall forward for the Supreme Court when Justice Tom C. Clark retired. He served on the Court for the next twenty-four years, compiling a liberal record that included strong support for Constitutional protection of individual rights, especially the rights of criminal suspects against the government. He was a staunch opponent of the death penalty, believing it a violation of the Constitution. He participated in every dissent of death penalty cases during his time on the Court.

Justice Marshall also understood that equal rights apply to all, extending his work for racial equality to other oppressed communities. He joined in a spirited dissent of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 decision that infamously upheld Georgia’s anti-gay application of its ludicrous sodomy laws. He also wrote influential opinions on labor rights, securities law, and taxation. He famously wrote a dissent in Personnel Administrator MA v. Feeney, saying that a law that gave hiring preference to veterans over non-veterans was unconstitutional because of its inequitable impact on women (Yes, standing up for equality for women was okay back then). A constant defender of individual freedom, he famously observed:

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

Marshall also supported a women’s right to govern her own body and helped with the passage of Roe v. Wade. He was a stalwart defender of women’s rights and the right to choose.

In poor health, he retired from the bench in 1991, noting his dissatisfaction that his successor would be selected by George H.W. Bush. Those fears were sound. In a display of wanton tokenism, Bush appointed the integrity-impaired far right demagogue Clarence Thomas. That substitution heralded the beginning of the Court’s descent from defenders of individual rights and the rule of law to the Roberts’ Court’s flagrant obsequiousness to corporate power and individual greed. The Fecal Five on today’s Court would do well to listen to Marshall’s words:

Our whole constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men’s minds.

Fortunately, Marshall’s legacy lives on, with many of his opinions holding the force of law even today. His true successor on the bench was appointed by the first African American President when President Obama appointed former Marshall law clerk Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Marshall died of heart failure in 1993. His papers were given to the Library of Congress and — unusually but according to Marshall’s wishes — made open to scholars and researchers immediately. Many tributes and memorials to Marshall exist around the country but none are so strong as the legacy of the law he believed in, defended, and helped to shape for the betterment of all Americans.

Hero of the Week Award: June 29, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan

29 Jun

Hero of the Week

This week we celebrate an enormous, surprising decision. With a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the main components of the Affordable Care Act. Significantly, they found the individual mandate, bete noir of the Radical Right, to be a reasonable congressional act under the authority to tax. Given the court’s rightward tilt of late, America was stunned. We’re pretty shocked here at TSM, too. Awarding a majority SCOTUS opinion the HWA is not anything we thought would happen any time soon.

This is a major victory not just for President Obama and the Democrats who worked so hard to pass even a mediocre health care bill. It is a victory for all Americans. The ACA, however flawed, is a significant step toward real care for all Americans. Without it, the poorest and the disenfranchised would continue to suffer, sicken, and die. Disproportionate impacts would be felt along racial, gender, and class lines, making it harder  and harder for those with the least to ever succeed. This Constitutionally sound victory — complete with a cease-and-desist order on the current challenges to the ACA — should let us move forward as a nation. We’ll see how the Republicans in Congress (John Boehner was crying so hard he called off his press conference!) try to cock it all up.

It’s fun to speculate why Chief Justice Roberts joined the more liberal justices in this opinion, just as it is important to note that Justice Kennedy has put the final nail in the coffin of his “swing vote” status. Roberts’ reasons don’t really matter, however: he did the right thing. We all owe these five Justices a debt of thanks this week. (For a great guide to the legal aspects of the decision in straightforward layman’s language, the ever excellent Ari Ezra Waldman has an analysis here.)

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 27, Renée Richards

27 Jun

Today we honor and celebrate a pioneer in transgender rights and LGBT athletics. Renée Richards was born Richard Raskind in New York in 1934. She grew up, in her own words “a nice Jewish boy.” Raskind excelled at tennis from early on, and was ranked among the top-10 Eastern and national juniors in the late 1940s and early 1950s, serving as captain of the high school team and again for the team at Yale. After Yale, Raskind went to medical school at the University of Rochester. After a short stint in the Navy, the doctor established a career as an eye surgeon while still pursuing tennis on the side.

Raskind realized that her gender identity did not match the male gender assigned to her at birth and began to explore her options in the mid-60s. She traveled Europe dressed as a woman and consulted a physician about reassignment surgery. She did not transition at that time, however, and returned to the U.S. where she married and had a son. She then decided to transition and did so in 1975.

Richards wanted to continue to play tennis but was met with resistance. The U.S. Tennis Association barred her from the U.S. Open in 1976, requiring her to take a chromosome test. Unwilling to accept this discrimination, she sued the USTA. In 1977, the New York Supreme Court handed her a win. She played women’s tennis professionally until 1981. She was ranked as high as 20th overall (in February 1979), and her highest ranking at the end of a year was 22nd (in 1977). Her greatest successes on court were reaching the doubles final at the U.S. Open in 1977 with Betty Ann Stuart — the pair lost a close match to Martina Navratilova and Betty Stöve — and winning the 35-and-over women’s singles. She later coached Navratilova to two Wimbledon wins and was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Her courage and drive have been the subject of two films. Second Serve, a made-for-television film from 1986 starred Vanessa Redgrave who received two award nominations for the role. The film was based on her autobiography. ESPN made the documentary Renée in 2011. No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life, was her second book, published in 2007.

Renée Richards is a true pioneer. There are very few out athletes, and fewer still who maintain professional success while out. Like her contemporary, baseball’s Glenn Burke, Richards proved that despite the discrimination it is possible to succeed. She remains perhaps the most successful active, professional, out athlete.

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