DOMA

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!

A Victory on DOMA For Karen Golinski

Liberty & Justice by Mirko Ilic

Well, while we ponder what will transpire on the mind numbingly restricted “win” for the Perry Plaintiffs in the 9th Circuit, yet another Northern District of California (NDCA) judge has followed in Vaughn Walker’s footsteps and has sent a large and loud message in favor of Constitutional protection of marriage equality. Judge Jeff White has doomed DOMA in the Karen Golinski case!

These motions compel the Court to determine whether the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), 1 U.S.C. Section 7, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates the United States Constitution by refusing to recognize lawful marriages in the application of laws governing benefits for federal employees. Having considered the parties’ papers, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court HEREBY DENIES BLAG’s motion to dismiss; DENIES as moot BLAG’s motion to strike; GRANTS Ms. Golinski’s motion for summary judgment; and GRANTS the OPM’s motion to dismiss.
….
Here, having analyzed the factors, the Court holds that the appropriate level of scrutiny to use when reviewing statutory classifications based on sexual orientation is heightened scrutiny. See also In re Levenson, 587 F.3d at 931 (holding that “some form of heightened constitutional scrutiny applies”); Witt, 527 F. 3d at 824-25 (Canby, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (“classifications against homosexuals are suspect in the equal protection sense” as gay and lesbian individuals have “experienced a history of purposeful unequal treatment [and] been subjected to unique disabilities on the basis of stereotyped characteristics not truly indicative of their abilities” and “they also exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group; and they are a minority.”). In short, this Court holds that gay men and lesbians are a group deserving of heightened protection against the prejudices and power of an often-antagonistic majority.

The finding of heightened scrutiny because sexual orientation is exactly the proper finding and the further step that Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Michael Hawkins cowardly failed to take in the recent Perry decision. It is the right finding.

Judge Whit goes on in Golinski to knock back all the lame justifications given by H8ters for DOMA, much the same way Walker did at the trial level in Perry. Responsible procreation and child-rearing, nurturing the institution of traditional, opposite-sex marriage, defending traditional notions of morality, preserving scarce government resources….he kills them all. As an extremely nice touch, White also frames his decision against the Constitutionality of DOMA on alternate concurrent inspection as well, fully analyzing and finding against it under a rational basis analysis as well as heightened scrutiny. This dual track type of analysis could have, and should have been done by Reinhardt in Perry, but, for some inexplicable reason, was not.

In concluding, White even gets in a shot at ‘Ole Balls & Strikes Roberts:

As Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts said during his confirmation hearings: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules, they apply them. … it’s [the judge’s] job to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat.” Confirmation Hearing on the Nomination of John G. Roberts, Jr. to be Chief Justice of the United States: Hearing Before the S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 109th Cong. 56 (2005) (statement of John G. Roberts, Jr., Nominee).

In this matter, the Court finds that DOMA, as applied to Ms. Golinski, violates her right to equal protection of the law under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution by, without substantial justification or rational basis, refusing to recognize her lawful marriage to prevent provision of health insurance coverage to her spouse. Accordingly, the Court issues a permanent injunction enjoining defendants, and those acting at their direction or on their behalf, from interfering with the enrollment of Ms. Golinski’s wife in her family health benefits plan. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor of Ms. Golinski and against defendants the Office of Personnel Management and its director John Berry as set out herein pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58.

That is a nice day’s work Judge Jeffrey White. Well done!

Obama’s “Evolution” Accelerates: DOJ Formally Declares DOMA Unconstitutional

Well the Obama Administration slid some pretty big news into the holiday weekend trash dump, and for once it is very good news. In a late filing in the Northern District of California (NDCA) case of Golinski v. US Department of Personnel Management, the Department of Justice has formally stated that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional:

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, 1 U.S.C. 7 (“DOMA”), unconstitutionally discriminates. It treats same-sex couples who are legally married under their states’ laws differently than similarly situated opposite-sex couples, denying them the status, recognition, and significant federal benefits otherwise available to married persons. Under well-established factors set forth by the Supreme Court, discrimination based on sexual orientation is subject to heightened scrutiny. Under that standard of review, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the appropriate level of scrutiny for classifications based on sexual orientation, but it has established and repeatedly confirmed a set of factors that guides the determination whether heightened scrutiny applies: (1) whether the group in question has suffered a history of discrimination; (2) whether members of the group “exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a group”, (3) whether the group is a minority or is politically powerless; and (4) whether the characteristics distinguishing the group have little in relation to legitimate policy objectives or to an individual’s “ability to perform or contribute to society.” Bowen v. Gilliard, 483 U.S. 587, 602-03 (1987); City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). Careful consideration of those factors demonstrates that sexual orientation classifications should be subject to heightened scrutiny.

Here is the complete brief filed by the DOJ in Golinski

As much grief as Barack Obama has received for his “state of evolution” posture on granting full constitutional equality, in all respects, on LGBT issues, including more than a little from me, this is a very significant shift and should be applauded. The position staked out in Golinski is a follow on of the “new policy” announced by the Administration when it refused to continue defending the 2nd Circuit DOMA cases, but it is a quantum shift further.

The US government has gone from fighting to support DOMA, to refusing to support but standing on the margins, to entering the case and actively siding with the plaintiff seeking to declare the law unconstitutional. That is truly a wonderful evolution, and it is happening at warp speed now. this is far more reaching than just the pending DOMA cases in the 2nd Circuit. As I first said when the policy shift was announced by Eric Holder, this seismic change will filter into any LGBT Constitutional rights case pending in federal or state courts, most importantly Perry v. Schwarzenegger (Prop 8) and the other DOMA cases currently being litigated.

This is simply fantastic news for all those who believe in Equal Protection and marriage equality for all. As I said exactly one week ago tonight when New York passed their marriage equality law in the dead of the night, the die is increasingly cast. The government’s official, and strong, step forward in Golinski is yet another big step toward the goal, and toward Anthony Kennedy’s wheelhouse. In conjunction with the Motion for Summary Judgment concurrently filed by Golinski herself, that should about seal the deal in the case. That is a beautiful thing.

Once the precedent is entered that “discrimination based on sexual orientation is subject to heightened scrutiny” the game is over across the board. The dawn is on the horizon.

New York’s Enlightenment & Some Thoughts On Perry Prop8 Case

Liberty & Justice by Mirko Ilic

New York gets it done for marriage equality:

Lawmakers voted late Friday to legalize same-sex marriage, making New York the largest state where gay and lesbian couples will be able to wed and giving the national gay-rights movement new momentum from the state where it was born.

The marriage bill, whose fate was uncertain until moments before the vote, was approved 33 to 29 in a packed but hushed Senate chamber. Four members of the Republican majority joined all but one Democrat in the Senate in supporting the measure after an intense and emotional campaign aimed at the handful of lawmakers wrestling with a decision that divided their friends, their constituents and sometimes their own homes.

…..

Senate approval was the final hurdle for the same-sex marriage legislation, which was approved last week by the Assembly. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the measure at 11:55 p.m., and the law will go into effect in 30 days, meaning that same-sex couples could begin marrying in New York by late July.

Outstanding. A friend in New York told me this was going to happen and that it would be done late and on Friday night, because that is how monumental and controversial legislation gets done in Albany historically. And that is exactly how it came down. You can almost feel the awesomeness of New York all the way out here in the desert.

But I want to touch on the bigger picture and what the enlightened New York action means to the push for marriage equality for all across the nation. In short, this is Continue reading

Newt’s Singeing Statement

Newt Gingrich, in a role that was probably cast years ago, now calls on Obama to be impeached because he refuses to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who plans within two weeks to announce if he will run for president, said today that if President Obama doesn’t change his mind and order his Justice Department to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, Republicans in Congress should strike back and even consider impeachment proceedings.

“I believe the House Republicans next week should pass a resolution instructing the president to enforce the law and to obey his own constitutional oath, and they should say if he fails to do so that they will zero out [defund] the office of attorney general and take other steps as necessary until the president agrees to do his job,” said Gingrich. “His job is to enforce the rule of law and for us to start replacing the rule of law with the rule of Obama is a very dangerous precedent.”

Mind you, Newt seems to misunderstand what’s going on. After all, Obama will continue to enforce DOMA. What he won’t do is defend a law he believes to be unconstitutional; but he’ll let a court decide whether he’s right or not.

Which makes what Obama did far far less abusive (in all senses of the word) than what George W Bush did with his long catalog of signing statements. Perhaps Bush’s most famous was his signing statement to the Detainee Treatment Act.

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action. Finally, given the decision of the Congress reflected in subsections 1005(e) and 1005(h) that the amendments made to section 2241 of title 28, United States Code, shall apply to past, present, and future actions, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in that section, and noting that section 1005 does not confer any constitutional right upon an alien detained abroad as an enemy combatant, the executive branch shall construe section 1005 to preclude the Federal courts from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over any existing or future action, including applications for writs of habeas corpus, described in section 1005. [my emphasis]

Not long after the DTA went into effect, Stephen Bradbury wrote his ridiculous Appendix M opinion allowing DOD to use any techniques they wanted to claim were included in that Appendix and later refused to share it with Congress.

But my personal favorite is the one he signed on the Defense Appropriation Bill in 2003, after Congress defunded data mining programs directed at Americans.

Sections 8082, 8091, 8117, and 8131 of the Act make clear that the classified annex accompanies but is not incorporated as a part of the Act, and therefore the classified annex does not meet the bicameralism and presentment requirements specified by the Constitution for the making of a law. Accordingly, the executive branch shall construe the classified annex references in sections 8082, 8091, 8117, and 8131 as advisory in effect. My Administration continues to discourage any efforts to enact secret law as part of defense funding legislation and encourages instead appropriate use of classified annexes to committee reports and joint statements of managers that accompany the final legislation.

As this timeline makes clear, it appears to have been an attempt to avoid having the data mining prohibition apply to the illegal wiretap program that was used, among other things, to wiretap protected conversations between defendants and their lawyers. Even after Jim Comey et al refused to reauthorize the program with its next approval (leading up to the hospital confrontation), Bush authorized it to continue anyway.

Of course, Newt didn’t make a peep when Bush issued signing statements followed by executive branch assertions of authority (his March 10, 2004 reauthorization of the illegal wiretap program and Bradbury’s memo) designed to thwart Congressional efforts to shut down specific programs.

But now that Obama has stepped back to allow the courts to decide whether a legally married gay man can extend his federal benefits to his spouse–even while continuing to enforce DOMA–Newt considers such executive branch tactics an impeachable offense.

Once again, torture and domestic surveillance are acceptable abuses of executive authority for Republicans. But a blowjob or a loving marriage requires impeachment.

The New Obama Policy On Constitutionality Of DOMA & Boies/Olson Reaction

Liberty & Justice by Mirko Ilic

As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, the Obama Administration this morning made an abrupt and seismic shift in its legal policy and position on DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act). There are two documents of note in this regard, the Attorney General’s press announcement and the detailed letter to speaker John Boehner announcing the change in policy and describing the legal foundation therefore.

Marc Ambinder explains what this means to the two key cases in question:

The decision means the Justice Department will cease to defend two suits brought against the law. The first was a summary judgment issued in Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department of Health and Human Services last May by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the law’s definition of “marriage” as a legal union between a man and a woman.

District Judge Joseph Louis Tauro ruled Section 3 of the act unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated states’ rights to set their own marriage policies and violated the rights of same-sex couples in the states that permitted marriages. But the president felt compelled to defend the law, reasoning that Congress had the ability to overturn it. The Justice Department entered into an appeal process on October 12, 2010. Tauro stayed implementation of his own ruling pending the appeal. The department filed its defense in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on January 14.

The second lawsuit, involving the cases of Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management and Windsor v. United States, would have been appealed in the Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit, which has no established standard for how to treat laws concerning sexual orientation.

I would like to say this is not only a welcome, but extremely strong position that has been taken by President Obama, Attorney General Holder and the Administration. You can say they are late to the dance, that it is political opportunism because the boat was already sailing, or that it is a “bone to the base” with an election looming. To varying degrees, all would have some validity. However, the bottom Continue reading

The DOMA Decisions In The 9th Circuit

I have had several people ask me off blog about the “opinions” on the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) that have surfaced recently in the 9th Circuit. I may write more later; but for now I want to lay out the sequence of facts and actions and start the discussion.

The current issue really took flight last month when 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski entered an order dated November 19, 2009 on the matter of Karen Golinski, a staff attorney for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judicial branch employees such as Golinski are Federal employees and therefore have their benefits administered by the Office of Personnel Management (the same folks Obama and Harry Reid want to administer their poor excuse of a substitute for the Public Option). Based upon the OPM’s stated position, the contracted benefits carrier (Blue Cross/Blue Shield) refused to provide health benefits for her same sex legal spouse, Amy Cunninghis.

From Judge Kosinski’s November 19 Order:

Karen Golinski has been denied a benefit of federal employment because she married a woman rather than a man. I previously determined that violates this court’s guarantee of equal employment opportunity. To avoid a difficult constitutional problem, I harmonized the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 USC §7; the statutes creating the benefit program at issue, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP), 5 USC §8901 et seq.; and this court’s commitment to equal employment opportunity.

I then entered [an] order

No “party or individual aggrieved” by my decision appealed it.

The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) complied with my order and submitted Ms. Golinski’s form 2089 to the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Servie Benefit Plan, Ms. Golinski’s health insurance carrier. That’s as it should be; the AO is subject to the “supervision and direction” of the Judicial Conference of the United States, 28 USC §604(a), and I exercised authority delegated by the Judicial Conference when I ordered relief. After the AO submitted Ms. golinski’s form, I thought this matter had concluded.

The Executive Branch, acting through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), thought otherwise. It directed the insurance carrier not to process Ms. Golinski’s form 2089, thwarting the relief I had ordered. (citations omitted)

That is the basic tale of Golinski and Kozinski. Since the November 19 Order the above language was taken from, the situation has become even more exacerbated by the intransigence of the Obama Administration and its OPM which, either comically or tragically depending on one’s view, is headed by John Berry who the Administration made a big show of touting as its highest ranking openly gay official.

The irony just oozes. After further refusal and contempt of his clear order, which the Administration never appealed, Continue reading

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