Domestic Policy

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9th Circuit Extends Equal Protection (and Batson) to Sexual Identity

In yet another win for equality, and equal protection, on issues involving sexual orientation and identity, the Ninth Circuit has issued an important opinion holding Batson v. Kentucky protections apply to sexual orientation issues in jury selection.

The case is Smithkline Beecham Corp, dba GSK v. Abbott Laboroatories, and the decision is here.

This case evolved out of a licensing dispute between two pharmaceutical makers of HIV medications. GSK contended Abbott violated antitrust laws, dealt in bad faith and otherwise engaged in unfair trade practices by licensing to GSK the authority to market an Abbott HIV drug in conjunction with one of its own and then increasing the price of the Abbott drug fourfold, so as to drive business to Abbott’s own combination drug.

Judge Steve Reinhardt set the table:

During jury selection, Abbott used its first peremptory strike against the only self-identified gay member of the venire. GSK challenged the strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), arguing that it was impermissibly made on the basis of sexual orientation. The district judge denied the challenge.

This appeal’s central question is whether equal protection prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in jury selection. We must first decide whether classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to a standard higher than rational basis review. We hold that such classifications are subject to heightened scrutiny. We also hold that equal protection prohibits peremptory strikes based on sexual orientation and remand for a new trial.

The fact the court unanimously found that heightened scrutiny applies is critical. Finding heightened scrutiny controlling on sexual preference issues has been the holy grail for a long time, and exactly what the Supreme Court ducked in Windsor (mostly) and Perry (completely through avoidance).

The Batson challenge was effectively uncontroverted materially by Abbot, and the court found exactly that. The far more important discussion, however, comes in the analysis of whether the violation by Abbott violated the Equal Protection Clause. This is a necessary question because, while the Supreme Court in J.E.B. v. Alabama extended Batson protections to gender, and Continue reading

Aaron Swartz, Plea Leveraging & The Bordenkircher Problem

CryingJusticeAs Netroots Nation 2013 begins, I want to emphasize one of the best panels (If I do say so) of the event. It is titled: Beyond Aaron’s Law: Reining in Prosecutorial Overreach, and will be hosted by Marcy Wheeler. Joining Marcy will be Aaron Swartz’s attorney, Elliot R. Peters, of Keker & Van Nest LLP in San Francisco, Shayana Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and Professor Jonathan Simon of Boalt Hall at Berkeley. The panel goes off at 3:00 pm Saturday June 22.

As a lead in to the panel discussion, I want to address a topic that struck me from the first moment of the tragic loss of Aaron Swartz, the pernicious effect of the late 70′s Supreme Court case of Bordenkircher v. Hayes.

Paul Hayes was a defendant on a rather minor (involved $88.30), but still felonious, bad check charge in Kentucky. But Hayes had a bad prior criminal history with two felony priors. The prosecutor offered Hayes a stipulated five year plea, but flat out threatened Hayes that if he didn’t accept the offer, the prosecution would charge and prosecute under Kentucky’s habitual criminal (three strike) law. Hayes balked, went to trial and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison under the habitual offender enhancement charge. It was a prosecutorial blackmail threat to coerce a plea, and the prosecutor delivered on his threat.

Hayes appealed to every court imaginable on the theory of “vindictive prosecution” with the prosecutorial blackmail as the underlying premise. Effectively, the argument was if overly harsh charging and punishment is the penalty for a defendant exercising his right to trial, then such constitutes prosecutorial vindictiveness and degrades, if not guts, the defendant’s constitutionally protected right to trial.

Every appellate court along the way declined Hayes’ appeal until the 6th Circuit. The 6th, however, came up with a surprising decision, granting Hayes relief, but under a slightly different theory. The 6th held that if the prosecutor had originally charged Hayes with the habitual offender charge, and then offered to drop it if Hayes pled guilty, that would have been perfectly acceptable; but using it like a bludgeon in plea negotiations once the case was charged was impermissibly vindictive, and therefore unconstitutional.

Then, from the 6th Circuit, the case finally made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States. By that time, Hayes had long been in prison and the prison warden, Bordenkircher, was the nominal appellee in the caption of the case. The Supreme Court, distinguishing another seminal vindictive prosecution case, Blackledge v. Perry, reversed the 6th Circuit and reinstated Hayes’ life sentence.

Blackledge v. Perry is a famous case known in criminal defense circles as the “upping the ante case”. Blackledge was convicted of a misdemeanor and appealed, which in North Carolina at the time meant he would get a new trial in a higher court. The state retaliated by filing the charge as a felony in the higher court, thus “upping the ante”. The Supreme Court in Blackledge held that to Continue reading

The Internet Didn’t Kill the Middle Class; Laxity and Apathy Did

KodakBldgAtlanta_mcclanahoochie-Flickr_modIn tandem with the release of his book, Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier’s interview with Salon generated a lot of hand-wringing across social media. It seems Lanier, one of our so-called intellectual visionaries, believes that the collapse of Kodak and its 140,000 jobs, and the rise of Instagram and its 13 jobs, exemplifies the killing field of the internet. Lanier theorizes good paying jobs that once supported a thriving middle class have disappeared as internet-enabled firms replaced them. As these jobs vaporized, so did necessary benefits. Here’s a key excerpt from the interview:

“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face,” he writes in the book’s prelude: “At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people. Where did all those jobs disappear? And what happened to the wealth that all those middle-class jobs created?”

What a crock of decade-late shit.

Where the hell was Lanier in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S. manufacturing sector nose-dived due to government policies created by corporate-acquired elected officials and appointees?

It wasn’t the internet that killed the middle class. The apathy of intellectuals and the technology elite did; too few bothered to point out the potential repercussions of NAFTA and other domestic job-depleting policies. In the absence of thought leaders, corporatists sold the public and their electeds on job creation anticipated from globalizing policies; they just didn’t tell us the jobs created wouldn’t be ours.

It wasn’t the rise of digitization that killed the middle class. It was the insufficiency of protests among U.S. brain power, including publicly-funded academics, failing to advocate for labor and home-grown innovation; their ignorance about the nature of blue collar jobs and the creative output they help realize compounded the problem.

Manufacturing has increasingly reduced man hours in tandem with productivity-increasing technological improvements. It wasn’t the internet that killed these jobs, though technology reduced some of them. The inability to plan for the necessary shift of jobs to other fields revealed the lack of comprehensive, forward-thinking manufacturing and labor policies.

It all smells of Not-My-Problem, i.e., “I’m educated, technology-enabled, white collar; those stupid low-tech blue collar folks’ jobs aren’t my problem.”

Until suddenly it is. Continue reading

Tsarnaev: Right to Counsel, Not Miranda, Is the Key

LadyJusticeWithScalesSince Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken into custody just over a week ago, the hue and cry in the public and media discussion has centered on “Miranda” rights and to what extent the “public safety exception” thereto should come into play. That discussion has been almost uniformly wrongheaded. I will return to this shortly, but for now wish to point out something that appears to have mostly escaped notice of the media and legal commentariat – Tsarnaev repeatedly tried to invoke his right to counsel.

Tucked in the body of this Los Angeles Times report is the startling revelation of Tsarnaev’s attempt to invoke:

A senior congressional aide said Tsarnaev had asked several times for a lawyer, but that request was ignored since he was being questioned under the public safety exemption to the Miranda rule. The exemption allows defendants to be questioned about imminent threats, such as whether other plots are in the works or other plotters are on the loose.

Assuming the accuracy of this report, the news of Tsarnaev repeatedly attempting to invoke right to counsel is critically important because now not only is the 5th Amendment right to silence in play, but so too is the right to counsel under both the 5th and 6th Amendments. While the two rights are commonly, and mistakenly, thought of as one in the same due to the conflation in the language of the Miranda warnings, they are actually somewhat distinct rights and principles. In fact, there is no explicit right to counsel set out in the Fifth at all, it is a creature of implication manufactured by the Supreme Court, while the Sixth Amendment does have an explicit right to counsel, but it putatively only attaches after charging, and is charge specific. Both are critical to consideration of the Tsarnaev case; what follows is a long, but necessary, discussion of why.

In fact, “Miranda rights” is a term that is somewhat of a misnomer, the “rights” are inherent in the Constitution and cannot be granted or withheld via utterance of the classic words heard every day on reruns of Law & Order on television. Those words are an advisory of that which suspects already possess – a warning to them, albeit a critical one.

In addition to being merely an advisory of rights already possessed, and contrary to popular belief, advising suspects of Miranda rarely shuts them down from talking (that, far more often, as will be discussed below, comes from the interjection of counsel into the equation). As Dr. Richard Leo has studied, and stated, the impact of Miranda on suspects’ willingness to talk to interrogators is far less than commonly believed. One study has the effect rate of Miranda warnings on willingness to talk at 16%; from my two plus decades of experience in criminal defense, I would be shocked if it is really even that high.

On top of this fact, the Miranda warnings relate only to the admissibility of evidence or, rather, the inadmissibility – the exclusion – of evidence if it is taken in violation of Miranda. Professor Orin Kerr gives a great explanation here.

Since there is, without any real question, more than sufficient evidence to convict Tsarnaev without the need for admissibility of any verbal confession or other communicative evidence he may have provided the members of the HIG (High Value Detainee Interrogation Group), the real Continue reading

DOMA’s Day At The Supremes

RainbowNiagraFallsUPDATE: HERE IS THE AUDIO OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF TODAY’S ARGUMENT

I am going to do something different today and put up a post for semi-live coverage – and discussion – of the DOMA oral arguments in the Supreme Court this morning. First, a brief intro, and then I will try to throw tidbits in here and there as I see it during and after the arguments.

The case at bar is styled United States v. Windsor, et al. In a nutshell, Edith Windsor was married to Thea Spyer, and their marriage was recognized under New York law. Ms. Spyer passed away in 2009 and Windsor was assessed $363,000.00 in inheritance taxes because the federal government, i.e. the IRS, did not recognize her marriage to Spyer in light of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Litigation ensued and the 2nd Circuit, in an opinion written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, struck down DOMA as unconstitutional and ruled in favor of Edith Windsor. Other significant cases in Circuit Courts of Appeal hang in the lurch of abeyance awaiting the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, including Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, Gill v. OPM and Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management.

As an aside, here is a fantastic look at the restaurant where Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer met nearly 50 years ago.

Arguing the case will be Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli again for the United States, Paul Clement for the Bi-Partisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) on putative behalf of Congress, because the Obama Administration ceased defending DOMA on the grounds it was discriminatory and unconstitutional, and Robbie Kaplan for Edith Windsor. Clement and Verrilli are well known by now, but for some background on Robbie Kaplan, who is making her first appearance before the Supremes, here is a very nice article. Also arguing will be Harvard Law Professor Vicki Jackson who was “invited” by SCOTUS to argue on the standing and jurisdiction issue, specifically to argue that there is no standing and/or jurisdiction, because the Obama Administration quit defending and BLAG will argue in favor of standing and jurisdiction.

Here is a brief synopsis of the argument order and timing put together by Ed Whelan at National Review Note: I include Whelan here only for the schedule info, I do not necessarily agree with his framing of the issues).

Okay, that is it for now, we shall see how this goes!

Live Updates:

10:39 am It appears oral arguments are underway after two decisions in other cases were announced.

10:51 am RT @SCOTUSblog: #doma jurisdiction arg continues with no clear indication of whether majority believes #scotus has the power to decide case.

11:00 am By the way, the excellent SCOTUSBlog won a peabody award for its coverage of the Supreme Court.

11:05 am @reuters wire: 7:56:34 AM RTRS – U.S. SUPREME COURT CONSERVATIVE JUSTICES SAY TROUBLED BY OBAMA REFUSAL TO DEFEND MARRIAGE LAW

11:15 am Wall Street Journal is reporting: Chief Justice John Roberts told attrorney Sri Srinivasan, the principal deputy solicitor general, that the government’s actions were “unprecedented.” To agree with a lower court ruling finding DOMA unconstitutional but yet seeking the Supreme Court to weigh in while it enforces the law is “has never been done before,” he said.

11:20 am Is anybody reading this, or is this a waste?

11:32 am @SCOTUSblog Kennedy asks two questions doubting #doma validity but nothing decisive and Chief Justice and Kagan have yet to speak.

11:40 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Chief Justice Roberts repeatedly expressed irritation at the Obama administration, telling Ms. Jackson, the court-appointed lawyer, and without specifically mentioning the administration, that perhaps the government should have the “courage” to execute the law based on the constitutionality rather instead of shifting the responsibility to the Supreme Court to make a decision.

11:45 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Paul Clement, attorney for lawmakers defending the law, argued that the went to the very heart of Congress’s prerogatives. Passing laws and having them defended was the “single most important” function of Congress, he argued.

11:52 am Wall Street Journal (Evan Perez) Justice Scalia and Mr. Srinivasan parried on whether Congress should have any expectation that laws it passes should be defended by the Justice Department. Mr. Srinivasan said he wouldn’t give an “algorithm” that explained when Justice lawyers would or wouldn’t defend a statute, but ceded to Justice Scalia’s suggestion that Congress has no “assurance” that when it passes a law it will be defended. That’s not what the OLC opinion guiding the Justice Department’s actions in these cases says, Justice Scalia interjected.

11:56 am Associated Press (Brent Kendall) One of the last questions on the standing issue came from Justice Samuel Alito, who asked whether the House could step in to defend DOMA without the Senate’s participation, given that it takes both chambers to pass a law.

11:59 am Bloomberg News During initial arguments today on the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that a federal law that doesn’t recognize gay marriages that are legal in some states can create conflicts.
“You are at real risk of running in conflict” with the “essence” of state powers, Kennedy said. Still, he also said there was “quite a bit” to the argument by backers of the law that the federal government at times needs to use its own definition of marriage, such as in income tax cases.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that when a marriage under state law isn’t recognized by the federal government, “One might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”

12:05 pm @SCOTUSblog Final update: #scotus 80% likely to strike down #doma. J Kennedy suggests it violates states’ rights; 4 other Justices see as gay rights.

12:07 pm The argument at the Court is well into the merits portion of the case now

12:09 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Kennedy, however, jumped in with federalism concerns, questioning whether the federal government was intruding on the states’ territory. With there being so many different federal laws, the federal government is intertwined with citizens’ day-to-day lives, he said. Because of this, DOMA runs the risk of running into conflict with the states’ role in defining marriage, he said.

12:12 pm It is pretty clear to me, from a variety of sources I am tracking, that the Court has serious problems with DOMA on the merits. Clement is getting pounded with questions on discrimination, conflict with state laws and federalism concerns. Pretty clear that if standing is found, DOMA is going down.

12:15 pm Wall Street Journal (Brent Kendall) Justice Ginsburg again says the denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples pervades every area of life. DOMA, she said, diminished same-sex marriages to “skim-milk” marriages. Justice Elena Kagan (pictured) follows a short time later saying DOMA did things the federal government hadn’t done before, and she said the law raised red flags.

12:19 pm @reuters wire: U.S. SUPREME COURT CONCLUDES ORAL ARGUMENTS ON FEDERAL LAW RESTRICTING SAME-SEX BENEFITS

12:30 pm @AdamSerwer Con Justices contemptuous of Obama decision not to defend DOMA but still enforce law. Kennedy said “it gives you intellectual whiplash”

Okay, as I said earlier, if the Justices can get by the standing issue, it seems clear that DOMA is cooked. I think they will get by standing and enter a decision finding DOMA unconstitutional as to Section 3, which is the specific part of the law under attack in Windsor. That effectively guts all of DOMA.

That is it for the “Live Coverage” portion of the festivities today. It should be about an hour and a half until the audio and transcript are available. As soon as they are, I will add them as an update at the top of the post, and will then put this post on the top of the blog for most of the rest of the day for further discussion. It has been bot a fascinating and frustrating two days of critical oral argument; please continue to analyze and discuss!

The Prop 8 Oral Arguments Before the Supreme Court

Picture-1A momentous morning in the Supreme Court. All the work, analysis, speculation, briefing and lobbying culminated in an oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry lasting nearly an hour and a half – half an hour over the scheduled time. There are a lot of reports and opinions floating around about what transpired.

Here is Tom Goldstein

Here is Reuters led by Lawrence Hurley and David Ingram

Here is Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog

Here is USA Today

Here is Huffington Post’s Mike Sacks with a video report

Here is Ryan Reilly and Mike Sacks with a written report at HuffPost

Suffice it to say, we do not know a heck of a lot after oral arguments than we did right before them. The full range of decision is on the table. However, there were certainly some hints given. Scalia and Alito are very hostile, and Thomas is almost certainly with them in that regard although he once again stood mute. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor seemed receptive to the Ted Olson’s arguments. Breyer oddly quiet and hard to read. As is so often the case, that left Anthony Kennedy in effective control of the balance.

If Kennedy’s tenor at argument is any guide, and it isn’t necessarily, he is unlikely to sign on to a broad ruling. In fact he may be struggling with standing, but that is very hard to read. Several commenters I have seen interpreted Kennedy’s questions as having a real problem with standing and signaling a possibility of punting the case on that basis. From what I have read so far, I wouldn’t say that…and neither does Adam Serwer, who was present at argument.

So, in short, I would summarize thusly: Standing is a bigger issue than I had hoped, and there is more resistance to a broad ruling than I had hoped. But the game is still on. Remember when Jeff Toobin’s train wreck/plane wreck take after the ACA oral arguments; you just don’t know and cannot tell.

I will likely be back later after analysis of the pertinent material. For now, let me leave you with that material and media so you too can hear and see the groundbreaking day in the Supreme Court:

Here is the full transcript of the oral arguments

Here is the audio of the proceedings

Enjoy, and I look forward to discussing this! And, again, there will be updates to this post throughout the day, so keep checking for them.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

A Path To Civil Rights History For the Supreme Court, Obama and Verrilli

Supreme Court CoolJust about a month ago, in urging the Obama Administration to file a brief in favor of marriage equality in the Hollingsworth v. Perry Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court, I described the stakes:

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case.

It was true then, it is true now. To the everlasting credit of of President Obama, Solicitor General Verrilli and the Administration, they did indeed file a brief in support. It was a surprisingly strong brief with a clarion call for full equality based upon heightened scrutiny; yet is was conflicted with a final ask only for a restricted ruling limited in application to either just California or, at most, a handful of somewhat similarly situated states. In short, the ask in the Administration’s brief was not for equality for all, in all the states; just in some.

On the eve of one one of the seminal moments of Supreme Court history – it is easily arguable this is far more of a defining moment than the ACA Healthcare scuffle was – it is again incumbent on the Administration to give the justices the headroom to make a broad decision granting equality for all.

Even in the short time since the Obama Administration filed their brief, between February 28 and now, the mounting tide of public opinion and desire for full equality has grown substantially in multiple ways. Colorado, a state where the thought was once beyond contentious, passed full civil union equality and Governor Hickenlooper signed it into law. And a new comprehensive Washington Post/ABC News public poll has found that a full 58% of Americans now support the legality of gay nuptials, and a whopping 81% of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 so support.

The writing is on the wall, and the trend overwhelming. And it simply does not make sense for the Obama Administration to buck this tidal wave and argue only for equality in a handful of states, with equality for some, but far from for all. Barack Obama and Donald Verrilli laid every bit the foundation needed to argue for broad based full equality – in all states – in their brief.

It is time for Mr. Obama and Mr. Verrilli to step up and forcefully tell the Supreme Court that full equality is the right way to rule. The Court granted Solicitor General Verrilli time to express the Administration’s position in the oral argument Tuesday; he should use it in the name and cause of full broad based equality. It is a time for leadership; this is a moment for Mr. Obama and his attorney to display it.

By the same token, it is also time for the Supreme Court to do the same. So often it has been argued the “Court should not get out in front of popular opinion”. Bollocks, the Court should refuse to put themselves behind public opinion, and an ever strengthening one at that, by shamefully ducking the perfect opportunity to stand for that which the Constitution purports to stand, equal protection for all.

There are a myriad of legal arguments and discussions, and just about every commenter and expert in the field has been offering them up over the last week. I will leave that to another day, after the court has heard the oral arguments, we have our first inclination of what the justices are focused on, and the case is under advisement for decision.

For now, here are a couple of warms ups for Tuesday’s oral argument in Hollingsworth v. Perry/Prop 8 and Wednesday’s oral argument in United States v. Windsor/DOMA. First a nice little video “Viewer’s Guide to Gay Marriage Oral Arguments” with Supreme Court barrister extraordinaire, and SCOTUSBlog founder, Tom Goldstein. Here is a handy flow chart of all the different possibilities, and the why for each, of how the court may rule on both cases. It is really pretty neat and useful tool.

The briefing is long done now and the Justices understand the issues. But if the ACA/Healthcare cases taught us anything, it is that Justice Roberts is concerned about the legacy and esteem of the court. And Justice Kennedy has already shown how committed he is to fairness in social justice issues and willing to even go out on limbs ahead of controversial public opinion with his written opinions.

At this point, the most effective leverage is not repeated discussion of the minutiae of law, but rather the demonstration of the righteousness of full equality. History will prove fools of those who sanction continued bigotry against marital equality, and anything less than a broad based heightened scrutiny finding, for equality for all people, in all states, is a continuation of such unacceptable bigotry.

UPDATE: Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA has a piece out today that embodies my point in the post perfectly. Discussing the disastrous and ugly 1986 decision of the Supreme Court in Bowers v. Hardwick to uphold sodomy laws when times and opinion had already changed, and the profound regret felt by Anthony Kennedy’s predecessor, Lewis Powell, Professor Winkler writes:

Kennedy is clearly a justice who considers how his legacy will be shaped by his votes. In 1992, when the Supreme Court was asked to overturn Roe in a case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice Kennedy originally sided with the conservatives to reverse the controversial privacy decision. Like Justice Powell in Bowers, Justice Kennedy then changed his vote. He went to see Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, and explained that he was concerned about how history would judge Kennedy’s decision to end constitutional protections for women’s right to choose.

Like many people, Justice Kennedy may believe that the public tide against marriage discrimination is growing and that gay marriage is inevitable. History is not likely to be kind to those justices who vote to continue relegating LGBT people to second-class citizenship. As the swing justice ponders how to rule in the gay-marriage cases, Justice Powell’s well-known regret over Bowers, and the widespread recognition that Bowers was wrongly decided, will almost certainly weigh on his mind.

Adam’s article is worth a full read. And I agree with it completely.

Further Reflections on the Obama Amicus Brief in Prop 8

Supreme Court CoolAfter the flurry of fast analysis on the fly, getting a post up for discussion and the crucible of discussion here and on Twitter – and a bit of sleep – I have some further thoughts on the amicus brief filed late yesterday by the Obama Administration in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

My ultimate conclusions on what the Obama amicus means and portends has not changed much, but there are several things that should be said both to explain my criticism and give a little more credit to the Administration where due. First an analogy explaining my criticism of the Obama brief.

Imagine if, when Brown v. Board of Education was being considered, the Eisenhower Administration had instructed it’s Assistant Attorney General and OLC chief, J. Lee Rankin, to amicus brief that only Kansas and a handful of other similarly situated states, but not the rest of the country where the bigotry of segregation was at its most prevalent worst, should be granted desegregation. How would history have held Mr. Eisenhower and Mr. Rankin? That is, of course, not what happened in Brown; the Eisenhower Administration filed an amicus brief demanding equality and desegregation for all citizens, in all states.

Messrs. Obama, Holder and Verrilli, however, fell short of such a demand for equality for all in the civil rights moment, the Brown v. Board, of their time. Let the record reflect they did have the courage to join the game, which is in and of itself a commendable thing, just that they did not muster the full courage to play to win for all Americans, regardless of their particular state of domicile – and especially not for those in the states with the most sexual orientation bigotry and discrimination.

In this regard, I think our friend at Daily Kos, Adam Bonin, summarized the duality of the Obama amicus quite well:

To be sure, the brief argues all the right things about why laws targeting gays should be subject to heightened scrutiny, and that none of the proffered justifications for treating their relationships differently have merit (“Reference to tradition, no matter how long established, cannot by itself justify Continue reading

The Obama DOJ Files a Timid Brief in Perry/Prop 8!

Picture-1The news was broken, right around 2:00 pm EST by NBC’s Pete Williams, that the Obama Administration would indeed file a brief in support of marriage equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry. Here was the original tweet by NBC’s Williams:

Obama Justice Dept to file Supreme Court amicus brief today opposing Prop 8 in Calif and expressing support for same-sex marriage to resume.

Here was Williams’ followup story at NBCNews.com. The inherent problem with the original report was that it tended to indicate the Obama Administration was briefing only on the restricted Romer v. Evans posture heinously crafted by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the 9th Circuit.

So, we were left hanging wondering exactly how the Obama Administration really briefed the issue, was it a limited Romer brief, or one for full marriage equality and heightened scrutiny under the equal protection and due process clauses that would give all citizens, nationwide, equality as I argued for earlier this week?

We now have the answer, and the brief, and here it is the brief in all its not quite glory:

The Obama Administration has, shockingly (okay, I do not mean that in the least), tried to nuance its way and split babies. Typical cowardly bunk by Mr. Obama. Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSBlog depicted it thusly:

The historic document, though, could give the Court a way to advance gay marriage rights, without going the full step — now being advocated by two California couples who have been challenging Proposition 8 since 2009 — of declaring that marriage should be open to all same-sex couples as a constitutional requirement.

Administration sources said that President Obama was involved directly in the government’s choice of whether to enter the case at all, and then in fashioning the argument that it should make. Having previously endorsed the general idea that same-sex individuals should be allowed to marry the person they love, the President was said to have felt an obligation to have his government take part in the fundamental test of marital rights that is posed by the Proposition 8 case. The President could take the opportunity to speak to the nation on the marriage question soon.

In essence, the position of the federal government would simultaneously give some support to marriage equality while showing some respect for the rights of states to regulate that institution. What the brief endorsed is what has been called the “eight-state solution” — that is, if a state already recognizes for same-sex couples all the privileges and benefits that married couples have (as in the eight states that do so through “civil unions”) those states must go the final step and allow those couples to get married. The argument is that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of legal equality when both same-sex and opposite-sex couples are entitled to the same marital benefits, but only the opposite-sex couples can get married.

Honestly, I think Mr. Denniston is being kind. President Obama’s position bears the mark of a full throated coward. Clearly, when Mr. Obama said this to ABC News, he was blowing smoke up the posterior of the American public:

…obviously, my personal view, which is that I think that same-sex couples should have the same rights and be treated like everybody else. And that’s something I feel very strongly about and my administration is acting on wherever we can.

That statement would say that Obama actually supports full equal protection for ALL Americans. But the position staked out today in the Administration’s brief filed by his Solicitor General puts the lie to Obama’s rhetoric.

Mr. Obama has consistently lied about his dedication to civil liberties, privacy and the Fourth Amendment, I guess it should not be shocking that he would lie about his dedication to civil rights for all, across all the states, in the form of marriage equality. And that is exactly what he has done. And as Denniston’s article makes clear, this decision bore the active participation and decision making of Obama personally. The cowardice is his to bear personally. Thanks for the fish Mr. Obama.

That is the biggest of the Hollingsworth v. Perry briefing news today, but certainly not the entirety of it. Also filed today, among others, was a brief by a group of 14 states led by Massachusetts and New York and an interesting brief by NFL players Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo. The brief by the 14 states is helpful in the way it portrays marriage in the states, both straight and gay, and in that it, on page four, adopts the position of Olson, Boies and the Prop 8 Plaintiffs that the Supreme Court must find for full heightened scrutiny protection for sexual orientation under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The Kluwe and Ayanbadejo brief, frankly, is not particularly helpful in that regard as it only discussed the limited Romer based finding that would leave marriage equality up to the states.

The same group of American businesses who weighed in on the DOMA cases also filed a brief today in Hollingsworth v. Perry. In a more negative development, former Solicitor Walter Dellinger also filed an amicus brief today that is literally loathsome and dangerous in it’s argument against even giving standing for appeal to the Supreme Court. Dellinger embarrassed himself, but so too did Barack Obama. Must be something in the water of centrist Democratic thought.

So, there you have it. It was a rather important, if not quite as fulfilling as should have been, day in the life of the Hollingsworth v. Perry litigation. I guess credit should be given to Mr. Obama even for weighing in at all, and undoubtedly most media and pundits will slather him with praise for just that. Somehow, I cannot. The full measure of greatness was there for the taking, and Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Donald Verrilli, Jr. whiffed at the full mark of greatness. They will be remembered for their support, and their failure to truly step up will likely dissipate with time; but let it be said here and now.

In spite of the cowardly and restrictive actions by the “liberal President Obama” the cause of true heightened scrutiny protection for ALL Americans endures and lives on. Just not with the support of the President of the United States of America. that “leader” took the cheap “states rights” cowardly way out. Let us hope Anthony M. Kennedy and the majority of the Supreme Court have higher morals and muster as men.

[As always on these Prop 8 posts, the absolutely incredible graphic, perfect for the significance and emotion of the Perry Prop 8 case, and the decision to grant marriage equality to all citizens without bias or discrimination, is by Mirko Ilić. Please visit Mirko and check out his stock of work.]

Obama, Holder, Verrilli and the Mark of Civil Rights History

Leaving aside the heinous 3/5 compromise set forth by James Wilson and Roger Sherman at the founding Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, American history is marked by significant moments of dedication to civil rights for its citizens. Far from perfect, it has been a struggle and evolution. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted:

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

Which is certainly true, from the Founding Fathers, to Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, to the 19th Amendment protecting the right of women to vote, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, moments of enthusiasm, sweat, toil and, eventually, greatness mark the struggle for equality for all in the United States.

And here we are on the cusp on the next defining moment in the quest for equality for all in the US. It is not for origin, not for skin color, not for gender, but for something every bit as root fundamental, sexual identity and preference. Marriage equality, yes, but more than that, equality for all as human beings before the law and governmental function.

For all the talk of the DOMA cases, the real linchpin for the last measure of equality remains the broad mandate achievable only through Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case. The case for full equality in Hollingsworth has been made beautifully, and strongly, in the Respondent’s Brief penned by Ted Olson, David Boies, Theodore Boutrous and Jeremy Goldman.

But there is still a missing voice in the discussion, that of the United States government. The government has the voice, and spoke it loudly in the DOMA litigation, first in a policy declaration letter to Congress, then in lower court briefing and finally in Supreme Court briefing. Mr. Obama’s initial policy declaration noted that we must “suspicious of classifications based on sexual orientation” and concluded:

…that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

Indeed that is true, but it only takes the equality movement so far, it still leaves room and ability for bias against sexual orientation by individual states, most notably on the front of marriage equality, but potentially a host of other invidious modalities as well.

That is not good enough. It is time for the government, by and through the Obama Administration, to take the final step in cementing full equality for all citizens, not just as to the federal government, but as to the states as well. The government needs to file an amicus brief supporting full equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

Three men are in the crucible – President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. History will remember these men either way, but they have the opportunity to be remembered among the giants in civil rights history. It is a defining moment for their once and future legacy.

What a major moment in history this is, and will be, if the if the Obama Administration Solicitor General files a brief in support of full heightened scrutiny based protection for sexual orientation.

It brings to mind the scene from “Lincoln” where President Lincoln says

“Now, Now, Now”

and forces the 13th amendment through because “Now” was the moment to eradicate slavery in one fell swoop and waiting posed unconscionable risks and further damning inequality.

Such is exactly the time and place now as to the last recognized measure of fundamental equality, sexual orientation. The Perry Plaintiffs’ team has argued well in their brief for the broad principles of due process and equal protection heightened scrutiny that would resolve these issues “Now”. All the stars are aligning. Prominent Republicans have filed an amicus brief. So too a broad swath of leading American businesses. Openly gay Congress members are calling for it.

Now is the time to seize the moment and eradicate discrimination across the board against gay men and women. This is the moment for enthusiasm, and President Obama, Attorney General Holder and Solicitor General Verrilli have a historic opportunity to help make it happen. This is the moment, and they need to step up. Great men take such great steps.

The time is “Now, Now, Now”.

File the amicus brief for full equality in Hollingsworth v. Perry gentlemen.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz RT @FredDuVal: Great to be at an event with our next Secretary of State @TerryGoddardAZ & Attorney General @FeleciaForAZ! #AZForward http:/…
11mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz "...the government can use a kangaroo court to execute a man it spent the past decade torturing in secret," http://t.co/g29wtqxp8P (2/2)
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bmaz "We are asking the federal court to explain to the Military Commission that it cannot pretend we were at war just so that ....(1/2)
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bmaz @JennyMehlow Girl and capitol look beautiful!
16mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @GrantWoods @yvonnewingett Doesn't safety+accountability through competent insurance coverage for the public good count too?
16mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz Just a couple of hitters RT @BeschlossDC Here are @RedSox Ted Williams & @Yankees Joe DiMaggio 1942: #Fox http://t.co/efeEPH9GVF
19mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @AZCopwatch Oooh, right up your alley too!
29mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @slnc01 @WalshFreedom Unbelievable? Yes. Unbelievable for Walsh, not so much. Predictable for that guy even.
39mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @ColMorrisDavis @politico Nice. That quote by Hollander is a killer.
41mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz So deadbeat dad @WalshFreedom tweets his love for un-American racist Cliven Bundy http://t.co/ljh377fGa1
45mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @TamsLyf @Gaius_Publius @maddow Like they give a flying crap whether Maddow "scolds" them? All she is doing is preaching to her choir.
58mreplyretweetfavorite
bmaz @Gaius_Publius @maddow If it took 19 minutes to get to the point, that is ridiculous. I don't need the hyperventilating.
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