Mariah Blake

Mariah Blake

Senior Reporter

Mariah Blake is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. She has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. E-mail her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com or follow her on Twitter.

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Read the Incredibly Moving Opinion From the Judge Who Just Struck Down Virginia's Gay-Marriage Ban

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 4:39 AM EST

On Thursday night, a federal court in Virginia struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling follows similar decisions in Oklahoma and Utah, but it stands out for its celebratory tone and its stirring portrayal of marriage equality as a fundamental right. US District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen found that allowing same-sex marriage, like abolishing slavery and extending suffrage to women, was part of American’s ongoing expansion of constitutional rights to people who had been unjustly excluded. In her words, "We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect."

Below is an excerpt from her opinion:

The plaintiffs [two same-sex couples] ask for nothing more than to exercise a right that is enjoyed by the vast majority of Virginia's adult citizens. They seek simply the same right that is currently enjoyed by heterosexual individuals: the right to make a public commitment to form an exclusive relationship and create a family with a partner with whom the person shares an intimate and sustaining emotional bond. This right is deeply rooted in the nation's history and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty because it protects an individual's ability to make deeply personal choices about love and family free from government interference.

Virginia's Marriage Laws impose a condition on this exercise. These laws limit the fundamental right to marry to only those Virginia citizens willing to choose a member of the opposite gender for a spouse. These laws interject profound government interference into one of the most personal choices a person makes…

Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve and celebrate loving, intimate and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every other citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference…

Ultimately, this is consistent with our nation's traditions of freedom. [According to United States v. Virginia:] "The history of our Constitution is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded." Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: We the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

Justice has often been forged from fires of indignities and prejudices suffered. Our triumphs that celebrate the freedom of choice are hallowed. We have arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect….

Almost one hundred and fifty four years ago, as Abraham Lincoln approached the cataclysmic rending of our nation over a struggle for other freedoms, a rending that would take his life and the lives of hundreds of thousands of others, he wrote these words: "It can not have failed to strike you that these men ask for just. . . the same thing—fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. "

The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court's power, they and all others shall have.

Wright Allen—whose ruling is stayed pending appeal—also addressed arguments from Virginia officials that gay marriage broke with tradition. "Tradition is revered in the Commonwealth, and often rightly so," she wrote. "However, tradition alone cannot justify denying same-sex couples the right to marry any more than it could justify Virginia's ban on interracial marriage."

The Virginia case now joins the Oklahoma and Utah cases in the race to the Supreme Court, which may have the final word on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Read Wright Allen's entire opinion below:

 

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Dr. Drew and Nancy Grace: Why Do You Keep Booking This White Supremacist?

| Thu Feb. 13, 2014 7:00 AM EST

During George Zimmerman's trial for the alleged murder of Trayvon Martin, the media relied mostly on one man for pro-Zimmerman commentary: his friend and fellow neighborhood watch volunteer, Frank Taaffe. It has since come to light that Taaffe is an ex-con and fervent white supremacist who believes that whites and blacks have no business mingling and claims that "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them." He also hosts a white-power podcast. On one episode last fall he argued that all women who married black men would probably meet the same fate as Nicole Brown Simpson. ("I always say, you lie down with dogs you're going to get fleas—especially if they're black dogs.")

Nevertheless, the cable news networks have continued to give Taaffe airtime. Most recently, CNN's sister network, HLN, has been tapping him for commentary on the case of Michael Dunn, who, like Zimmerman, stands accused of murdering a black teenager in Florida. In the last few days, Taaffe has appeared on HLN at least six times, and he says on his Facebook page that he's slated to make nightly appearances on two HLN shows, Nancy Grace and Dr. Crew on Call, for the remainder of the week.

Taaffe's task is defending Dunn, who shot 17-year-old Jordan Davis outside of a Jacksonville gas station after arguing with the teen and his friends over loud music. Dunn claims he saw Davis holding what looked like a shotgun and that he fired at the boys in self-defense, but witnesses maintain that Davis was unarmed. On air, Taaffe has argued that the killing was justified, even if Davis wasn't pointing a firearm, because young black men are prone to violence. Here's a snippet from his exchange with an African American guest on Dr. Drew on Call last week:

You talk about the white man being the devil—well, here's a fact…According to the FBI, and the US Department of Justice, African Americans make up 12 percent of the population, yet they commit the most disproportionate amount of violent crimes. Over 60 percent of the murders were convicted by African Americans. And 32 percent were under the age of 18. So, when Michael Dunn pulled into that gas station, you know, you wonder why we have these premonitions…

New Jersey's Largest Paper on Christie Endorsement: "We Blew This One"

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 11:55 AM EST
Christie speaks to reporters about superstorm Sandy recovery funds.

Last fall, New Jersey’s largest paper, the Newark Star-Ledger, endorsed Gov. Chris Christie for reelection. Parts of its admittedly reluctant endorsement read more like a takedown. For instance:

The property tax burden has grown sharply on his watch. He is hostile to low-income families, raising their tax burden and sabotaging efforts to build affordable housing. He’s been a catastrophe on the environment….The governor’s claim to have fixed the state’s budget is fraudulent. New Jersey’s credit rating has dropped during his term, reflecting Wall Street’s judgment that he has dug the hole even deeper.

The peculiar statement left many people scratching their heads (including Rachel Maddow, who mocked it at length on her MSNBC show). Why, they wondered, would the paper endorse a candidate it held in such low esteem? Now, following the Christie administration's George Washington Bridge scandal and other damning accusations, the paper is backing away from its choice. Editorial page editor Tom Moran and the editorial board admitted in Sunday's Star-Ledger that they made a mistake by endorsing Christie. In their words:

An endorsement is not a love embrace. It is a choice between two flawed human beings. And the winner is often the less bad option.

But yes, we blew this one…We knew Christie was a bully. But we didn’t know his crew was crazy enough to put people’s lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn’t know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn’t know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

Interestingly, despite his flaws, the authors won't rule out endorsing him again one day.

Koch-Tied Groups Funded GOP Effort to Mess With Electoral College Rules

| Fri Jan. 31, 2014 9:26 AM EST

A Koch brothers mask at a 2013 protest.

Last election season, a shadowy nonprofit pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign to change how electoral votes are counted. The group didn't disclose who was funding its efforts—a fact that Mother Jones highlighted in a story titled "Who's Paying for the GOP's Plan to Hijack the 2012 Election?" But now, thanks to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonpartisan government watchdog, it's clear that organizations with ties to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch footed at least some of the bill.

Each state and the District of Columbia has a certain number of electoral votes, based on their population, and they get to decide for themselves how those votes should be allotted. Currently, every state except Maine and Nebraska gives all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote. But in 2011, GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin introduced bills that would divide electoral votes among candidates based on how many congressional districts they won. Because Republicans drew the boundaries of the districts in those states, this scheme would be almost certain to hand Republican presidential candidates the majority of their electoral votes—even if more voters cast ballots for Democrats. (Read more about how the plan would work here.) Presuming the race is close enough, this could decide the nationwide outcome.

In the case of Pennsylvania, a mysterious nonprofit called All Votes Matter spent large sums lobbying for these changes. Local officials wondered about its funding sources. "They raised an awful lot of money very quickly—$300,000 in just a few days," Democratic Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach told Mother Jones at the time. "We're all curious where that level of funding comes from." But All Votes Matter didn't disclose its donors, nor did it have to. The group is organized as a 501(c)4 "social welfare" nonprofit, which means that it can spend money on politics while keeping its donors secret. (Such groups are not supposed to spend more than half of their budget on political causes, but IRS enforcement is slack.) Thus the public knew little about the agendas behind this effort to upend the mechanics of presidential elections.

Fri Apr. 25, 2014 1:42 PM EDT