Tag Archives: law

Black History Month 2014: Barbara Jordan

21 Feb

01t/25/arve/G2064/056Today we honor and celebrate a civil rights activist and pioneering politician. Today would have been Barbara Jordan’s 78th birthday; she was born on this date in 1936 in Houston, TX. She was an honors student, inspired by the model of Edith Sampson to pursue a career in law. Unable to attend UT Austin because of segregation, she majored in Political Science at Texas Southern. She received her law degree from Boston University in 1959.

After a year teaching at Tuskegee Institute, she returned to Texas and started her own law practice. After two failed runs at the Texas House, she was appointed to the state Senate, the first African-American woman to serve in that body. She ran for the seat and won it, leaving in 1972 after her election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jordan was the first woman elected to represent Texas in the House and the first Southern African American in the House. With the support of former President Lyndon B. Johnson (a great civil rights pioneer), she secured an important post on the House Judiciary Committee. She became a leader in Democratic politics, delivering the keynote at the 1976 Democratic National Convention — the first African-American woman to do so. While in office she helped pass the Community Reinvestment Act, requiring banks to make services available to minority and underserved communities.

Jordan retired from politics in 1979 (although she delivered another DNC keynote in 1992), teaching at UT Austin, the very school that had barred her attendance decades before. Throughout her life she suffered from multiple sclerosis, requiring a cane for most of her adult life and eventually needing a wheelchair. President Clinton intended to nominate her for the Supreme Court, but her health forced her to withdraw before the initial vetting process.

Barbara Jordan spent the last 30 years of her life with her partner, Nancy Earl. Although she never publicly described herself as a lesbian, she attended many public functions with Earl and made it clear that they were a couple. For a black, southern woman of her generation, this is fairly remarkable, especially given her very public career. The Jordan/Rustin coalition was created in her name and the name of Bayard Rustin to mobilize LGBT African Americans and encourage their active participation in the political process.

She was a frequent public speaker, known for her vibrant support of progressive causes. Jordan died of leukemia in 1996 at the age of 59, leaving behind a legacy of public service and activism.  Happy Birthday, Barbara Jordan.

Bigot of the Week Award: March 29, Paul Clement and Charles Cooper

29 Mar
Bigots of the Week

Bigots of the Week

As the country focused its attention on the Supreme Court and its two hearings on marriage equality this week, two men stood before the Court and easily walked away with Bigot of the Week Award. Attorneys Paul Clement and Charles Cooper go down in legal history for trying to argue that justice is served through discrimination, bigotry, and denying basic rights to a whole group of citizens–what a legacy to leave.

On a constitutional level, the cases are simple and clear. The Proposition 8 case, argued by Cooper, is an attempt to defend California’s notorious measure banning marriage equality for LGBT citizens. The DOMA case, argued by Clement on behalf of the Republicans in the U.S. House, tries to defend blocking over 1100 rights and privileges to already married citizens just because they are same-sex couples. Both cases are based on bigotry and nothing more. How tragic that these two straight white men could stand up and defend this blatant discrimination without shame.  Of course, I always wonder about people how are so focused on gay folk and consume so much energy on LGBT issues–what a very large closet to accommodate these people.

We won’t know for a couple of months exactly how the justices will rule on these cases. What we do know is that the arguments used by Clement and Cooper were old, tired, and transparently vile. Even the justices who seemed reluctant to move toward full national equality were skeptical of the shallow canards put forth by these hypocritical bigots. They used procreation, history, and (believe it or not) a level playing field as arguments to prop up their sad hate. What they could not do, when pressed, is say why any of their arguments served a state interest or showed why discrimination was merited.

One way or another, with or without the Court, the tide is turning. Public opinion is solidly on the side of equality, shifting over 20 points in just a decade. Over 80% of people under 30 support equality. These tired old white guys can trot out their hate all they like. All they’ll win in the long run is this week’s BWA, which they richly deserve.

Finally, I’m also exceedingly tired of hearing the phrase, “Gay Marriage!”  Might I please encourage folks to use Marriage Equality.  I don’t have a “Gay Marriage,” just as I don’t leave my job and get in my Gay car and go to my Gay house and then fix my Gay dinner.  I just have a marriage–you know, when two people love each other and decide to grow old with each other.

Dishonorable mention comes thanks to my friend Jennifer Carey. Rep. Don Young (R – AK) was waxing nostalgic about agriculture when he uttered the following gem:

My father used to own a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes, you know. It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.

All I can say to this horrible bigot is that he’s lucky Clement and Cooper were around to steal his award…

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!

Hero of the Week Award: February 15, Rep. Rick Nolan of Minnesota

15 Feb
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

This week a newly elected member of the 113th Congress took a stand against Citizens United — one of the worst decisions to come from a very biased U.S. Supreme Court — and put forward an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Rep. Rick Nolan (D – MN) is one of the Democrats who unseated a rabid Tea Party Republican in the November elections. He was in Congress before (1975 – 81), so he brings both experience and fresh eyes to the House.

Working with Rep. Mark Pocan (D – WI), Nolan crafted what he calls a “We the People” Amendment. It would clarify the Constitution by establishing two things.

  • Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and
  • Political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment.

What? You mean corporations are not human beings?  Scalia and his merry band will be sad to learn this. The full text is available at the Move to Amend website.

It is significant to note that during his time away from Congress Rep. Nolan served as president of the U.S. Export Corporation and the Minnesota World Trade Center. He is not anti-corporation but understands their limited and appropriate role. How wonderful to see him bring that experience to bear for the benefit of all.

A Constitutional amendment is a tall order and will take time and effort. It may even be a non-starter in Boehner’s House of Tears. Congress has the power to amend, however, to check the decisions of the Supreme Court. Thanks to Reps. Nolan and Pocan, however, the momentum has started.

From Gay Bashing to Child Pornography: Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Lisa Biron

16 Jan

Lisa-BironLisa Biron, a far-right, hyper-christian, anti-gay lawyer, was just convicted on eight charges related to child pornography. You read that correctly.

With Larry Craig’s wide stance, Mark Foley’s sexting with underage pages, and Family Research Council founder George Reker’s hiring a gay rentboy to “lift his luggage,” (hehehe) finding hypocrisy in the professional anti-gay crowd isn’t that surprising. The story of Lisa Biron, however, is one of the most vile  and just about made me spit up!

Biron is an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom. (Don’t you just love these vaguely patriotic names that mean nothing?) Formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, the ADF was created in 1994 by the likes of Donald Wildmon and the charm free, full of hate James Dobson to

Defend the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.

The “truth” they want to defend is the narrow version they see in their bibles. The ADF is rabidly anti-gay and has pursued cases against gay rights around the country, including defending Prop 8 in California. They also represent KKKristians who feel that any positive representation of the LGBT community abridges their right to have state support for their religious hatred. (So much for the “Freedom” part…) Biron has been one of their premiere attorneys, litigating many cases and fighting for “family values” all over the nation.

Apparently her family values involve driving a 14-year-old girl to Canada to make a child porn film with a Canadian youth, sexually exploiting the girl in making videos of her with another man, and making a cellphone video of herself engaged in sexual activity with the girl. Some details have not been released, but the AP has reported that the girl was Biron’s own daughter. How’s THAT for family values?

The jury in Manchester, NH deliberated for less than an hour before handing down charges on eight federal indictments including child sexual exploitation, transporting a child across state lines to produce child pornography and possession of child pornography. The ADF has scrubbed every reference to their former star from their Facebook page and their website.

It hardly matters. Lisa Biron is the kind of dirty that never washes clean. And she’s the face of “family values” law. We can only hope that her daughter will triumph over the abuse of her mother and that exposing this type of hate and hypocrisy will further the cause of social justice and equality for the LGBT community.

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