My column this week is about a travesty of justice in the Michael Brown case in Missouri. Here is an excerpt:
What is the fuss about? Succinctly: A police officer who was more an occupier than a protector used deadly force to subdue a jaywalker, then prosecutors presented the case for his defense.
As protests sprang up across the nation and overseas last week, Wilson resigned from the force. St. Louis County police shut down a vigilante operation by the Oath Keepers militia. Twenty-year-old Deandre Joshua was murdered during the unrest on the night of November 24. When President Obama said after the grand jury announcement, "[T]here are still problems and communities of color aren't just making these problems up," reactions from the right would make you think he had torched a storefront.
Carlton Lee, Michael Brown Sr.'s pastor, received dozens of racist death threats in recent weeks, and his church, far from the riots, was burned down as he was off trying to keep the peace. Vowing to rebuild at a Sunday service beside the ruins, he urged love in response to the haters.
It is an old struggle....
One of the bills that received unanimous approval on its final reading at the D.C. Council meeting on December 2 was Bill 20-803, the Human Rights Amendment Act. This bill enacted the recommendations in Sections 5.1 and 5.5 of GLAA's 2014 policy brief, "Building on Victory." Here is the bill summary:
To amend the Office of Human Rights Establishment Act of 1999 to require the Director of the Office to have a demonstrated professional background in human rights law, and to amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to require the annual report include information on investigations and public hearings undertaken by the Office, and to repeal the exemption [known as the Armstrong Amendment] allowing religiously-affiliated educational institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Thanks to Councilmember Tommy Wells, who introduced the bill and steered it through the Judiciary Committee. I blogged about the September 29 hearing here. A lawyer for Catholic University testified against the bill, falsely claiming that it would require the university to indicate its approval of a gay student group; in fact, it would only require the University to grant gay groups the same amenities as other student groups. Congress could act to overturn or block implementation of the bill, though that would require a presidential signature or a veto override. In the meantime, this is an overdue action in which the Council has resoundingly indicated its agreement with GLAA that the Armstrong Amendment (which was imposed by Congress a quarter century ago) needs to go.
Today, the District of Columbia Council unanimously approved a bill that will protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth from the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy.
When signed into law, Washington, D.C. will become the third jurisdiction—behind California and New Jersey—to pass legislation protecting LGBT youth from practices that are known to cause severe depression and even suicide.
“Today, the DC Council sent a powerful message to LGBT youth and their families that they are accepted, supported, and loved,” said Samantha Ames, NCLR staff attorney and coordinator of the #BornPerfect campaign at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). “The Council has used its authority to protect our most vulnerable youth from dangerous and discredited pseudoscience that tells them who they are is wrong, and reaffirmed the consensus of every major medical and mental health organization that all children are born perfect, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
NCLR, in conjunction with other organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, played a key role in organizing the coalition behind the bill, which was authored by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh. A broad range of groups supported the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, including national LGBT organizations, mental health organizations, faith leaders, youth advocates, reproductive justice groups, and civil rights organizations.
Earlier this year, NCLR launched the #BornPerfect campaign to protecting LGBT youth across the country from conversion therapy over the next five years by passing laws, fighting in courtrooms to ensure their safety, and raising awareness about the serious harms caused by these dangerous practices.
Learn more about #BornPerfect at www.NCLRights.org/BornPerfect.
GLAA is proud to be part of the coalition that pushed for this bill. Now it goes to Mayor Gray for his signature, then to the Hill for the requisite congressional review period. Our youth will be that much safer for our collective effort, and the national movement to protect minors from these dangerous practices will get a boost.
Thanks to NCLR and all our coalition partners. Special kudos to Alison Gill, formerly of the Trevor Project and now Senior Legislative Counsel with the Human Rights Campaign, who served as coordinator.
Lambda Legal issued this by news release:
On World AIDS Day 2014, Lambda Legal urges those tasked with enforcing U.S. criminal law - from governors to prosecutors to police detectives - to halt the criminal prosecution of people based on their HIV status, thereby assisting efforts to combat the misconceptions, fear, stereotypes, discrimination and stigma faced by people living with HIV that fuel the epidemic in the U.S. and around the world.
HIV criminalization is a striking example of how misinformation, stereotypes and unfounded fears affect people living with HIV and of the government engaging in discrimination that perpetuates these stigmatizing messages. Imposing unjustified and unnecessary criminal prohibitions on people with HIV has led to a society where people are - among other forms of oppression - imprisoned, classified as felons and forced to register as sex offenders, based on outdated and inaccurate information regarding HIV.
We have not come nearly far enough in educating the public about HIV and in reducing stigma and discrimination. Fear and ignorance about HIV and discrimination against people living with HIV remains a serious problem that both marginalizes people and poses barriers to treatment and care.
Lambda Legal remains committed to securing equal protection and equal rights for this community - because living with HIV is not a crime. Lambda Legal's commitment to fighting HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination began more than twenty-five years ago in 1983 when we filed the nation's first challenge to AIDS discrimination and helped secure a court order stopping the efforts of neighbors to evict a doctor from his offices because he treated HIV-positive patients.
That commitment remains strong today. People living with HIV have a right to work and live free from discrimination, and laws, policies and other governmental actions should be based on sound science rather than fear and bias.
See the relevant portion of GLAA's 2014 policy brief.
Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch reports. The right wing is losing it.
President Obama gave one of his finest speeches last night in announcing his executive action on immigration. Here is my favorite passage:
Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too.
My friend Walter Dellinger, who was head of the Office of Legal Counsel from 1993 to 1996, explains in Slate that the President is on solid legal ground:
The idea that the immigration plan just announced by President Obama is a lawless power grab is absurd. As the Justice Department legal analysis that was just released amply demonstrates, much of the advance criticism of the president’s action has been uninformed and unwarranted. The opinion is well-reasoned and at times even conservative. The president is not acting unilaterally, but pursuant to his statutory authority. Wide discretion over deportation priorities has long been conferred on the executive branch by Congress, and it is being exercised in this case consistent with policies such as family unification that have been endorsed by Congress.
Dellinger's whole piece bears reading. Thank you and bravo, Mr. President.
My post-election column is now up at the Blade. If you're dreading the holidays and could use a booster shot of snark, this could be just the thing. Here's an excerpt:
With Republicans winning the Senate and Obamacare on the run, a new Era of Good Feeling is surely around the corner. Vote suppression, gerrymandering, and truckloads of secret cash are just another way of saying, "The people have spoken!" Someone please turn this into lyrics for a new Christmas carol.
The best hope for Democrats is Republican overreach. By that I do not mean your right-wing uncle getting gravy on his sweater as he reaches across the table at Thanksgiving. I mean unhinged recklessness driven by hubris and Obama hatred. Profits are up, unemployment and deficits are down -- get that Muslim socialist out of the White House before he ruins us!
Republicans are furious at the President's unrepentant attitude, despite their own intransigence after past losses. Elections must have consequences when Republicans win. Talk of government shutdowns and impeachment is rising. But President Obama has little to lose by picking fights (by which I mean being president, black, and doing anything). If you abuse someone no matter what he does, he might as well stand his ground. That is what our 44th president, at long last, appears to be doing.
An update from Matt Baume at AFER. (From Monday)
Bill Cosby has entertained generations of Americans with his comedy. He is an educator and has created memorable children's programming. His creation "Little Bill" always says "Hello friend" because that's what Ennis, his murdered son, always said. Cosby is a great philanthropist. One does not want to believe that such a beloved and respected figure is a serial rapist. But 14 alleged victims, one of whom he settled with out of court, coupled with his silence, make it hard to credit his lawyer's dismissals. Sadness is all over this; but the seriousness of the accusations raises troubling questions about wealth and fame putting someone above the law. I sure could have done without this news.
Here are several relevant items:
Update: A thoughtful essay from Katie McDonough at Salon.
Miranda Blue at Right Wing Watch reports.
Reuters reports some good news from Botswana:
A Botswana judge overturned a government ban on a gay rights lobbying group on Friday, a rare victory for African gay rights campaigners on a continent where homosexuality remains highly contentious.
Justice Terrence Rannoane ruled that the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) would be allowed to register and campaign for changes to anti-gay legislation but reiterated that it was still illegal to engage in homosexual acts.
"In a democratic society such as ours, freedom of expression, assembly and association are important values duly protected by our constitution," Rannoane said.
Multiple developments this week on marriage equality. Above, victory in Kansas. Below, developments in MS and SC.
The Clarion-Ledger on marriage in Mississippi:
Analysis: Judge likely will overturn gay marriage ban
Meanwhile, Justice Thomas weighs in.
Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate:
Thursday’s 2–1 decision by the 6th Circuit upholding four states’ gay marriage bans is a deeply obnoxious slog that I would not recommend even to the most eager masochist. Its author, Judge Jeffrey Sutton, seems to fundamentally misunderstand the constitutional arguments behind marriage equality: Instead of analyzing the 14th Amendment’s dual guarantees of liberty and equal protection, he simply states that gay people have no business fighting for their civil rights in court. After a while, Sutton’s repeated insistence that it’s not a federal judge’s duty to enforce the constitution makes you want to grab him by the shoulders and ask, then what in the world were you hired for?
Luckily, someone has already done that for us: Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey, the dissenter in the case. Daughtrey’s opinion isn’t just blistering; it’s a scorching, bitterly funny, profoundly humane excoriation of Sutton’s sophistry.
Stern quotes three fine passages by Daughtrey:
The author of the majority opinion has drafted what would make an engrossing TED Talk or, possibly, an introductory lecture in Political Philosophy. But as an appellate court decision, it wholly fails to grapple with the relevant constitutional question in this appeal. … Instead, the majority sets up a false premise—that the question before us is “who should decide?”—and leads us through a largely irrelevant discourse on democracy and federalism. In point of fact, the real issue before us concerns what is at stake in these six cases for the individual plaintiffs and their children, and what should be done about it. Because I reject the majority’s resolution of these questions based on its invocation of vox populi and its reverence for “proceeding with caution” (otherwise known as the “wait and see” approach), I dissent.
Jay Michaelson at The Daily Beast looks at the ruling by Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton upholding gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
One of Sutton's arguments, designed to establish a rational basis for preventing gay couples from marrying, is the so-called natural law argument, which says that we are violating "nature's laws." As I have said before, natural law is merely religion in pseudo-scientific drag, cooked up by people who haven't the slightest understanding or respect for the scientific method. It amounts to a more polite rephrasing of the great line by playwright Christopher Durang's Sister Mary Ignatius, "You do the thing that makes Jesus puke." Instead of studying what nature has actually produced in all its diversity, they try to dictate to nature to stay within their comfortable boxes. Or, if you will, instead of studying God's creation, they tell God what to do. It's both bad science and presumptuous religion.
Sutton, by the way, is a respected conservative jurist. But as for those who say that the Sixth Circuit ruling sets back the cause of marriage equality, that is only true if you ignore the fact that this almost certainly propels the issue of marriage equality back to the Supreme Court of the United States, by creating a conflict among the federal circuit courts. That's less like losing and more like luring your enemy into a trap. Not that I am calling marriage opponents my enemies. We are all loyal Americans with an honest disagreement. If you ignore our opponents' endless lies and slanders, that is.
President Barack Obama will nominate Brooklyn federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch to replace the retiring Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general and if confirmed, she would become the first black woman to serve in the post, the White House said on Friday.
The 55-year-old North Carolina native and Harvard-trained lawyer has deep experience in both civil rights and corporate fraud cases. Lynch is known for a low-key personality and stirred little controversy during two tenures as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
If confirmed, Lynch would be the first black woman to serve as Attorney General of the United States. She has been confirmed to posts at the federal level twice before.
Because they're all about governing.
(Hat tip: Right Wing Watch)
The top-polling contender in the District's first election for an attorney general is Karl Racine, who is the first African American to have been named managing partner at a top 100 law firm. I met with him earlier this fall and was impressed. Many friends in the legal profession are supporting him.
While the only AG candidate to send a statement to GLAA is Lorie Masters (GLAA is not rating candidates in the AG race, but invited them to send us statements), Racine is interviewed today by Metro Weekly. Here is an excerpt of his comments:
I have always been deeply concerned with making sure that the same opportunities are available to others regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other trait.
As Managing Partner at Venable, I was responsible for hiring, promoting, and training our attorneys, and emphasized the importance of ensuring diversity in doing so. I drafted, implemented, and enforced clear policies regarding equal treatment and equal opportunity. I specifically hired a diverse team, including women, minorities, and LGBT individuals, and promoted many of these individuals to positions of prominence within the firm. Furthermore, I strongly believe in the power of proactive diversity training. Intolerance is based on ignorance, but can be addressed through creative programs such as our firm-wide book clubs dedicated to educating employees on issues of diversity.
On a personal level, I am a long-time volunteer with the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the primary community-based provider of HIV/AIDS services in the city. I have taken numerous pro bono cases representing people living with HIV/AIDS and helped them obtain social security benefits. I also took on pro bono work representing the Clinic itself. To further support Whitman-Walker’s work, I encouraged my Venable colleagues and other friends to take on additional projects, earning Venable the Clinic’s “Going the Extra Mile Law Firm Award” in 2004, among other honors.
In addition to my work with Whitman-Walker, I have volunteered with the D.C. Bar’s Pro Bono Legal Advice Program at Bread for the City, which provides vulnerable residents with comprehensive services such as housing, food, legal assistance, and medical care. I am also a member of the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, an organization dedicated to creating a truly diverse legal profession.
As Attorney General I will treat each and every resident of the District with dignity, respect and with equality before the law.
While GLAA is not rating AG candidates, I personally have concluded that Masters and Racine are the most qualified based on their experience, and I am supporting Racine. The District has seen several public officials taken down by scandal. Choosing as our first elected attorney general a man who has played a pioneering role as an African American among top law firms would be a feather in our cap and a reminder of the talent, accomplishment, and leadership available in our city.
GLAA endorses Initiative 71, the "Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014," and urges you to vote for it.
We have included it in our ratings ad, discussed it in our policy brief, Building on Victory, and discussed it in our testimony this week before the D.C. Council Judiciary Committee decrying racial disparities in police stops:
[W]e appreciate the work of our friends at ACLU of the Nation's Capital, which reported in 2013 on the dramatic racial disparity in marijuana arrests in the District:
"Officers from fifteen different police forces … made marijuana arrests in 2010, however MPD officers made 4,996 of the 5,393 total arrests, or almost 93%.... PSA 602, located in Anacostia, had a 2010 marijuana arrest rate of 2,488 per 100,000. By contrast, PSA 204, located in Woodley Park, had a marijuana arrest rate of just 33 per 100,000."
Given the roughly equal rates of self-reported marijuana use by white and black citizens, the disparity in enforcement must be confronted by this committee. In the meantime, the people are changing the law. GLAA endorses Initiative 71, the "Legalization of Possession of Minimal Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014." This will not end all problems associated with the disastrously counterproductive war on drugs, but it is a start.
Unfortunately, Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who leans conservative on many issues, is not quite with the program, judging by her comments on Twitter:
Legalize Marijuana for increased justice, opportunity, public safety and reducing racial injustice! Give me a break! That's a bit much.— Yvette M Alexander (@CMYMA) October 31, 2014
@dougsfresh All I'm saying is don't make up reasons to do it which are misleading. It won't lower incarceration rates for Black males! Smh— Yvette M Alexander (@CMYMA) October 31, 2014
I replied to her this morning:
@CMYMA Yvette, please. There's a big racial disparity in marijuana arrests. Ward 7 residents much more likely to be nabbed than west siders.— Richard Rosendall (@RickRosendall) October 31, 2014
Do not think for a moment that your vote doesn't matter. Please vote on or before November 4, and make sure to vote for Initiative 71. It will be a vote for fairness and justice.
Your Honor, we cannot sleep knowing that down the street those homosatanists are doing the thing that makes Jesus puke!
One of the sessions I attended at Wednesday's Washington Ideas Forum (hosted by Atlantic and the Aspen Institute) was this discussion by attorneys Ted Olson and Evan Wolfson of the state of the battle over marriage equality in federal courts. Jonathan Capehart moderated. Here's an excerpt of David A. Graham's report:
"We are winning, but winning is not won," Wolfson said. "It's not a done deal until it’s done. It's not going to waft in on waves of inevitability."
Wolfson has been leading the fight for gay marriage for more than three decades; Olson, alongside Democratic lawyer David Boies, has recently been one of its most high-profile advocates. The men were chummy, despite a kerfuffle this spring over Jo Becker's Forcing the Spring, a book some LGBT advocates felt aggrandized Boies and Olson at the expense of Wolfson and others.
There was no rivalry—just a mix of hope and frustration. On the one hand, about two-thirds of states now have gay marriage, and about two-thirds of American citizens live in those states. On the other hand, that means one third do not, and as long as same-sex marriage is not legal everywhere in the United States, they argued, the rights of gay people and their families are painfully compromised.
Other highlights of the Washington Ideas Forum were DefSec Chuck Hagel, who announced that service members returning from West Africa will face a quarantine; and Attorney General Eric Holder, who said that no reporter will go to jail as long as he is AG. Holder was interrupted by a protester decrying DOJ's record on civil liberties under Holder. Capehart, who was also the interviewer in this case, smoothly turned to Holder and asked him what about DOJ's poor record on whistleblowers and journalists. Holder defended himself, but was more credible when he talked about his decision not to defend DOMA in court.
Thanks to Atlantic Washington Editor At Large Steve Clemons for inviting me to the forum, which was held at the Harmon Center and continues on Thursday morning. A Thursday highlight will be an appearance by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Today I will testify on behalf of GLAA at an oversight hearing of the D.C. Council Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety on the Metropolitan Police Department's stop and contact policies and procedures. In it I cite findings and recommendations by our allies in the ACLU and NAACP. Here is my conclusion:
In looking at citizen complaints of police practices, we keep coming back to disparities by geography, race, and class. This is unacceptable. As I wrote in 2012, "It is easier to make excuses for stopping and frisking if you are never targeted by police based on your skin color."
Not only police but citizens in all eight wards must face the inequities around us with open eyes. When the law is not enforced in a fair and equitable manner, we undermine respect for the law. The standard carved above the entrance to the Supreme Court, "Equal Justice Under Law," is more a mockery than a reality for all too many. Dr. King issued the challenge the day before he was struck down: "All we say to America is be true to what you said on paper." If his words continue to sting, perhaps it is because love of country is all too often an excuse for self-congratulation instead of a call to self-correction.
Brian Tashman at Right Wing Watch reports:
Rick Santorum thinks that young people would have come around to his anti-gay political stances if only the “statists” in the gay community hadn’t “silenced” him and other Religious Right figures.
The former senator and likely presidential candidate made the claim yesterday in an interview with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, where they discussed the case in Houston where pastors sued the city for rejecting their petitions to repeal a non-discrimination ordinance. The city in turn subpoenaed several pastors, which Santorum and Perkins considered an affront to pastors’ rights.
“I really believe in this subject matter at hand with the gay community that a Judeo-Christian worldview cannot survive with a worldview that is as rabidly secular as this movement is,” Santorum said.
Pardon me, but if we silenced the church, why is the church still talking?
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver has solved the problem of SCOTUS not allowing television cameras during oral arguments.