Religious groups say that facilitating birth control coverage violates their beliefs, so the justices are trying to find a workaround.
Hannah LevintovaMar. 29, 2016 4:13 PM
On Tuesday afternoon, the US Supreme Court issued an order in Zubik v. Burwell, one of two critical reproductive rights cases currently before the court. In this case, several religious groups—including the Little Sisters of the Poor—contend that the Affordable Care Act's current protocol for religious groups seeking to opt out of covering contraceptives for their employees still violates their religious beliefs.
In their order, the justices asked both sides to present ideas for how contraceptive coverage can be provided for employees without any direct involvement by the religious employer. That's because the plaintiffs—which also include groups of priests, bishops, and several religious universities—take issue with even tangential involvement in facilitating birth control coverage, saying that the form they must complete to opt out of Obamacare's birth control mandate violates their beliefs because it requires them to help employees get birth control elsewhere.
The order suggests one workaround: The employer could voice their opposition to birth control in its initial contracts with insurance companies, and then leave the rest to the insurer. The insurance company would then be responsible for facilitating alternative birth control coverage, eliminating the need for groups to file any additional forms opting out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
Still, the distinction here is quite thin: If notifying the government violates a religious group's beliefs, it's unclear how shifting the process to one where they notify the insurance company instead will do much to alleviate their concerns.
An incomplete history of business deals gone wrong.
Hannah LevintovaMar. 28, 2016 6:00 AM
Of the many targets of Republican presidential contenders' attacks on Donald Trump—and there have been plenty to choose from—one of their favorites has been Trump University. The now-shuttered educational enterprise (forced to change its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after the New York education department found its moniker to be misleading) is accused, in three separate lawsuits, of defrauding thousands of students into taking on massive debt they now can't pay back by falsely marketing itself as a road to Trump-level wealth and business success.
But Trump University isn't the only Trump endeavor that has landed in court. The tycoon has launched—or lent his name to—a slew of business ventures that have yielded frustrated customers and investors who have sought legal recourse.There are hundreds of lawsuits extending over 43 years that name Trump or one of his businesses. Here's an incomplete list of some of those legal skirmishes that began when Trump joined his father's business and continue through his run for the GOP nomination.
Trump Management: In 1973, the Department of Justice brought a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his father's company, Trump Management, for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act in connection with 39 buildings it operated. The DOJ alleged that building administrators racially coded apartment applications to secretly ensure that black applicants would be denied. The case was settled in 1975, without an admission of guilt from Trump Management.
They wrote in their filing that the current plan gave a "basket of goodies" to Trump—including a $2 million-a-year salary—leaving virtually nothing for investors.
Trump Tower: In 1980, Trump hired a contractor to demolish an old building to clear the way for Trump Tower, the midtown Manhattan skyscraper that today houses Trump's main digs and the headquarters of the Trump Organization.To meet Trump's deadline, the contractor hired 200 undocumented Polish laborers and kept them off the books, paying them $4 or $5 an hour—the minimum wage in 1980 was $3.10—and often requiring that they work 12-hour days with no overtime. In 1983, members of the local Wreckers Union filed a class-action lawsuit against Trump for $4 million in unpaid union pensions and other contributions that would help increase benefits for some of the Polish workers. Many of the workers also alleged that they hadn't been paid the full wages they were due. Throughout the case and even recently, Trump has insisted that he wasn't aware his contractor had hired these Polish workers. The courts didn't buy it. "We find that a conspiracy to deprive the funds of their rightful contributions has been shown," wrote the district court judge in a 1991 ruling. "There is strong evidence of tacit agreement by the parties…to employ the Polish workers and to deprive them of the benefits ordinarily accorded to non-union workers on a union job, including contributions to the funds based on their wages." The case was settled in 1999 for an undisclosed amount and sealed, but Rubio brought it up several times during a GOP debate in February.
Trump's Atlantic City casinos: Between 1991 and 2009, four Trump ventures declared bankruptcy, three of them involving his hotel and casino empire in Atlantic City, New Jersey. These bankruptcies spawned a number of lawsuits. Here are three, including one from his own lawyer:
Trump was sued by a market analyst who predicted the bankruptcy of the Trump Taj Mahal casino years before it opened in 1990: When Trump was planning the Taj Mahal in the late 1980s, a market analyst named Marvin Roffman made it clear that he thought the venture wouldn't succeed. Two weeks before the casino's opening, after his dismal prediction about the casino's future was quoted in the Wall Street Journal, a furious Trump called the Philadelphia brokerage firm where he worked, Janney Montgomery Scott, demanding an apology and threatening to sue. Roffman issued an apology, rescinded it, and was then fired. First Roffman sued his former firm for wrongful termination—settling for $750,000—and then, in July 1990, he sued Trump, later settling for an undisclosed amount.
Trump's shareholders begged the bankruptcy court to derail Trump's plan to reorganize his Atlantic City casinos as a "basket of goodies" for himself: In 2004, Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts declared bankruptcy. When the company and the bankruptcy court came up with a plan to reorganize the business, stockholders in the company filed documents with the bankruptcy court asking the judge to cut off Trump's exclusive right to direct the reorganization of the casinos. They wrote in their filing that the current plan gave a "basket of goodies" to Trump—including a $2 million-a-year salary for his job as chairman—leaving virtually nothing for investors. Ultimately, the shareholders' appeals were acknowledged and Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts agreed to pay the investors $17.5 million. It is unclear what happened to Trump's salary.
A law firm won $50 million for Trump Entertainment but then had to sue its former client after Trump Entertainment tried to avoid paying its legal fees by claiming bankruptcy: In 2008, the law firm Levine Staller began filing tax appeals for the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Trump Marina. Its work saved Trump's company lots of money: In 2012, Levine Staller won a settlement that returned $35 million in overpaid taxes and cut $15 million from the company's future liabilities, leading to a total savings of $50 million for the corporation. Trump agreed to pay $7.25 million to the law firm in legal fees, but then only paid Levine Staller $6 million before trying to claim the rest as unsecured debt in ongoing bankruptcy proceedings. In response, Levine Staller sued its former client, Trump Entertainment, and in 2014, a judge rejected TrumpEntertainment's request to be absolved of this debt and told the company to pay up.
Two Trump casino dealers filed (and later lost) a sex discrimination case after they were fired for wearing ponytails: In 1996, two male casino dealers at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City got fired after repeatedly refusing to comply with a new grooming policy at the casino that required men's hair to be no longer than "mid-collar." Both dealers wore ponytails and received multiple warnings before being terminated. Once officially fired, they filed a case against Trump Plaza alleging that sex-differentiated hair policies are discriminatory, as well as several other charges. Both a lower court and the superior court of New Jersey ruled on behalf of Trump Plaza, saying that the hair length policy did not constitute sex discrimination.
Trump SoHo: In 2010, a group of buyers who had purchased condos at Trump SoHo, a luxury hotel and condo building in lower Manhattan, sued the Trump Organization, which managed the building, and the group of developers who had constructed it. They alleged that they were duped into buying these properties by representatives of Trump SoHo, who had exaggerated the building's sales and instilled a false sense of confidence in future buyers about the project's potential for success. The building was planned as a mixed-use condo and hotel project: Buyers could live in their properties only for a designated number of days each year, and the rest of the time their homes would be rented to hotel guests, with the buyer and Trump SoHo sharing rental revenue. In their complaint, the buyers said they had been misled in the personal pitches and statements to the press made by representatives of Trump SoHo, who said the project was "30, 40, 50, 60 percent or more" sold. In reality, only 16 percent of the building's units were sold—just 1 percent more than is needed to start an offering plan, a document for buyers that outlines the details of a construction project that is under development. A year later, the buyers settled with the sponsors of Trump SoHo after they promised to refund 90 percent of the apartment deposits. Trump SoHo was completed in 2010 and was purchased by CIM Group in 2014 after going into foreclosure proceedings because it couldn't find enough buyers. Roughly two-thirds of the units still haven't been sold.
Trump Tower Tampa: In 2009, a group of at least 20 condo buyers sued Trump for overselling his role in the development of a luxury condo project in Tampa, Florida, that was ultimately never built and remains an empty lot to this day.Buyers put down 20 percent deposits on 190 units that cost between $700,000 and nearly $6 million, in part because the project's marketing materials persuaded them that Trump was behind the development of the building. In fact, he had only lent his name to the project through a licensing agreement. The case was ultimately settled, with some buyers getting back as little as $11,115, after investing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
A Trump Organization VP wrote in an email, "At least for formal, prepared speeches, can someone vet going forward? Hopefully the Latino community does not organize against us more broadly in DC / across Trump properties."
Trump Baja: Tampa was not the only place where condo buyers sued Trump for overselling his role in a project.In 2010, more than 100 condo buyers sued Trump after they lost millions of dollars in deposits they'd put down on apartments in Trump Ocean Resort Baja, a plannedluxury oceanfront hotel and condo building near Tijuana, Mexico, that was never built.The property was foreclosed on in 2008, in the middle of the financial crisis, before construction had begun. Buyers had been given the impression that Trump was developing the property—a selling point for many—but when the project was foreclosed on, it turned out that he had merely licensed his name to the venture. The lawsuitaccused Trump of fraud and violating federal disclosure laws, among other charges, and a confidential settlement was secured in 2013.
Trump Model Management: In October 2014, Jamaican fashion model Alexia Palmer filed a lawsuit against Trump's modeling agency. She alleged that Trump Model Management had engaged in "fraudulent misrepresentation" and violated immigration and labor laws when it agreed, as part of her visa application, to pay her a $75,000 annual salary, but then didn't pay anywhere close to that amount. Palmer says she was paid just $3,880.75 over three years. Trump Model Management filed a motion to dismiss the case, and a New York district judge dismissed the case in March 2016.
The chefs: In June 2015, while announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination, Trump memorably described Mexican immigrants as criminals and "rapists."On July 8, acclaimed restaurateur José Andrés announced that he was pulling his restaurant from Trump's planned Washington, DC, hotel due to the candidate's comments. Shortly after, Geoffrey Zakarian, a second chef with an agreement to open an eatery at the hotel, also withdrew. In July and August, Trump sued Andrés' company and Zakarian's firm for breach of contract, asking each for $10 million in damages and lost rent. About a month later, both chefscountersued Trump, alleging that the real breach of contract was on his side. As Andrés explained in his lawsuit, which sought $8 million in damages, Trump's decision to disparage immigrants made it difficult to run a Spanish restaurant associated with his name. From Andrés' complaint: "The perception that Mr. Trump's statements were anti-Hispanic made it very difficult to recruit appropriate staff for a Hispanic restaurant, to attract the requisite number of Hispanic food patrons for a profitable enterprise, and to raise capital for what was now an extraordinarily risky Spanish restaurant."BLT Prime, a steak restaurant chain, has since agreed to open a location in Trump's DC hotel.
In February, as proceedings in the Andrés-Trump legal battle moved forward, internal Trump organization emails were submitted as part of court proceedings. After an email from Andrés' company said the company was getting blowback over Trump's statements on immigrants, a Trump Organization vice president sent an email to Ivanka Trump. "Ugh," the vice president wrote. "This is not surprising and would expect that this will not be the last that we hear of it. At least for formal, prepared speeches, can someone vet going forward? Hopefully the Latino community does not organize against us more broadly in DC/across Trump properties."
On Thursday evening, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signeda new law expanding Indiana's abortion restrictions. The measure will prohibit women from electing to have an abortion due to the race, gender, or disability of the fetus, and will impose strict rules on doctors who perform abortions.
"By enacting this legislation, we take an important step in protecting the unborn, while still providing an exception for the life of the mother," Pence said in a statement. "I sign this legislation with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families."
Indiana is the second state in the nation, after North Dakota, that prohibits a woman from seeking an abortion because the fetus is diagnosed with a disability, such as Down's Syndrome or microcephaly. The law will also require that the remains of an aborted fetus be interred or cremated and prohibits fetal tissue donation.
Additionally, the law will hold doctors liable for wrongful death if it is found that they perform an abortion that was motivated by a fetal defect, sex, or other prohibited reasons.
"It's disgraceful that politicians in Indiana want to shame a woman who may choose to end a pregnancy following diagnosis of a lethal fetal anomaly," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards in a March statement about the bill.
"Abortion reason" bans like the one just enacted in Indiana are opposed by many in the medical community, who say that they will cause women to censor themselves when discussing critical, sometimes heartbreaking, health decisions with their doctors. "These 'reason bans' represent gross interference in the patient-physician relationship, creating a system in which patients and physicians are forced to withhold information or outright lie in order to ensure access to care," wrote the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in a March statement. "By restricting the termination of pregnancies with genetic anomalies, the bill would cause additional severe emotional pain for women and their families."
The new law strikes down all existing LGBT anti-discrimination laws in the state.
Hannah LevintovaMar. 23, 2016 8:32 PM
UPDATE 2 (3/23/16): North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 2 into law late Wednesday night, invalidating a Charlotte LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance and similar laws in nine other localities. His office released the following statement: "This new government regulation defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman's bathroom, shower or locker room…As a result, I have signed legislation passed by a bipartisan majority to stop this breach of basic privacy and etiquette which was to go into effect April 1."
UPDATE 1 (3/23/16): North Carolina Gov. McCrory plans to sign HB 2 into law on Wednesday evening, his spokesperson tells BuzzFeed.
North Carolina state legislators introduced, debated, and passed a sweepinganti-LGBT bill on Wednesday, pushing it through a Republican-controlled Assembly so fast that 11 Democrats walked out in protest before the Senate vote late in the afternoon.
House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, strikes down all existing LGBT nondiscrimination statutes across the state, on top of banning transgender people from using some public restrooms. "That North Carolina is making discrimination part of the law is shameful," North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a video statement Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers introduced the bill in the House during a special session called to deal with a Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance that was set to go into effect on April 1. The Charlotte ordinance adds sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the city's existing anti-discrimination law. It includes a provision allowing transgender people to use restrooms at public facilities based on their gender identity and also protects LGBT people from discrimination by businesses and other institutions that serve the general public, like stores or schools.
Nine other localities in the state have ordinances similar to Charlotte's, but if House Bill 2 becomes law, all of them will be invalidated. In their place, the legislation proposes a statewide ordinance that would protect people from discrimination based on "race, religion, color, national origin, or biological sex." The "biological sex" provision would be a new addition, and refers to the sex listed on a person's birth certificate.
State representatives said they didn't have a chance to read HB 2 before it was introduced Wednesday morning, an hour before its scheduled vote by the House Judiciary Committee. The committee chairman gave lawmakers a five-minute break to read the bill after a request from Democratic Rep. Bobby Richardson.
As this bill sailed through the House, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Jackson listed the bill's sweeping implications on Facebook:
Here's what's happening - at light speed - in the General Assembly's "emergency" session right now.In response to...
The bill passed the House 83-to-25 on Wednesday afternoon, and 32-to-0 in the Senate later in the evening after Democratic lawmakers walked out en masse rather than debate the bill. (GOP Senate leader Phil Berger told ABC News that such a walkout was unprecedented during his 15 years in office.) Gov. Pat McCrory hasn't said whether he will sign the bill, but when Charlotte passed its nondiscrimination statute in February, McCrory expressed strong opposition and promised state-level backlash: "This shift in policy could also create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy," he wrote in an email to the Charlotte city council, adding that the bill would "most likely cause immediate state legislative intervention."
With the bill now headed to the governor's desk, several companies expressed their opposition to it, including Dow Chemical and North Carolina-based Red Hat.
"In blocking the will of Charlotte and other cities," tweeted the Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffin, the Assembly "is trampling on the rights of every taxpayer in North Carolina."
Congress is trying to give states the power to turn away the refugees they don't want.
Hannah LevintovaMar. 23, 2016 6:00 AM
Following the terrorist attacks at a subway station and airport in Brussels on Tuesday morning, GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz renewed their calls for Syrian refugees and other immigrants to be banned from entering the United States.
"We need to immediately halt the president's ill-advised plan to bring in tens of thousands of Syrian Muslim refugees," Cruz said during a Tuesday press conference in Washington, DC. "Our vetting programs are woefully insufficient."
"I would close up our borders," Trump said on Fox News. "Look at Brussels, look at Paris."
This time, they may have some backing in Congress. After the terrorist attacks in Paris last November, more than 30 states mounted efforts to ban the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their communities—issuing executive orders, proposing state-level legislation, and even filinglawsuits. These efforts failed because the Constitution mandates that immigration policy be set by the federal government. Now Congress is considering a bill that would tweak federal law to make this sort of refugee obstructionism a whole lot easier.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act, paving the way for a vote on the House floor. The bill, co-authored by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), would give state and local governments the opportunity to reject the resettlement of refugees in their communities—as was proposed by more than half of states after Paris—and it would shift the responsibility from the president to Congress of setting an annual ceiling on the number of refugees. The ceiling is currently at 85,000 refugees, after a September 2015 order from President Barack Obama, but Congress could set it as low as 60,000 refugees and block the president from raising it without congressional approval. In September 2015, Obama pledged that the United States would take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.
The measure wouldalso allow "recurrent background security checks" of US refugees, a provision that critics say amounts to "continual surveillance" of refugees. It would alsodelay how soon refugees can obtain their permanent green cards—changing it from one year after their arrival to three years. The bill also requires that the Department of Homeland Security prioritize claims from refugees who fear persecution based on their religion, as opposed to those who face persecution due to other circumstances, like their race, nationality, or membership in a particular social group. Religious persecution would be an unlikely claim for most Syrian refugees coming to the United States: the vast majority of them are Muslim, and Sunni Muslims are Syria's religious majority. This is one way the bill "clearly discriminates against Muslims as the intended target," said the Rev. John McCullough, president of the Church World Service, on a press call with reporters last week.
In advance of the House Judiciary Committee vote last week, 234 organizations—including the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants and the American Immigration Lawyers Association—sent a letter to Congress opposing the legislation. They noted "the current vetting process for refugees is incredibly rigorous and includes screening by U.S. federal law enforcement and national security agencies." Giving state and local governments a veto on refugee resettlement, they wrote, wouldn't enhance security and would instead "codify discrimination against refugees." They concluded: "It is simply un-American to treat persecuted individuals, who want nothing more than to start a new life in safe and welcoming communities, as criminals."
The bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Labrador, a former immigration lawyer, is convinced that current vetting processes aren't sufficient for screening refugees from Syria. "Compared to countries where US intelligence has strong footing, many current refugees are coming from failed states such as Syria, where there is very little US intelligence presence," he said when introducing the bill before the House Judiciary Committee last week. "The simple fact is that we do not know who these people truly are."
If the bill reaches the Senate, it will face an uphill battle. Following the Paris attacks in November 2015, the House passed another piece of legislation that would have effectively halted the admission of Syrian refugees into the United States. In January, the Senate blocked the measure.