As I reported in a piece for the print magazine last summer, Florida has emerged as sort of the Thunderdome of the anti-Shariah movement, with a host of lawmakers at the municipal, state, and federal level working hand-in-hand with a dedicated group of activists to combat the invisble spectre of Islamic law. Shariah isn't coming to South Florida, but that hasn't stopped the state legislature from trying—again—to ban it from being used in state courts.
On Friday, the South Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations blasted out this video, in which state Sen. Alan Hays, the bill's Republican sponsor, compares stopping Shariah to getting a polio vaccination:
When you were a child, did your parents have you vaccinated against different diseases? That was a preemptive gesture on their part for which I would hope you're very thankful. And this is very similar to that. Your mom and dad would not want you to get sick from one of those dreadful diseases, and I don't want any American to be in a Florida courtroom and have their constitutional rights violated by any foreign law. That's it. It's not that complicated.
By all accounts, Hays considers the threat posed by Islamic law quite dire. The Miami Heraldreported earlier in March that the senator had distributed anti-Shariah literature in the halls of the state capitol. Per the Herald, the fliers "present Islam as a threat to the United States," and invoke lawmakers to pass legislation to "save us from an internal attack" and "protect our freedom."
The Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles, the first 15-seed ever to reach the NCAA basketball tournament's second weekend, are the toast of March Madness on the basis of their high-flying style (nickname: "Dunk City") and up-from-nowhere story. Less than two decades ago, FGCU was little more than a collection of trailers looking out over a swamp. Today its hoops team is hanging with the heavyweights.
The less inspiring story, however, is how FGCU rose up out of the swamp. To put it bluntly: The school paved over it, using government connections to pressure the US Fish and Wildlife Service into green-lighting the development and in the process wiping out one of the last vital habitat areas of the severely endangered Florida panther. FGCU's is a particularly extreme version of a familiar story. For a century, South Florida developers have stared down all comers—and methodically reshaped the environment in the process.
On Tuesday, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed into law three of the nation's strictest anti-abortion laws, banning all procedures after six weeks, prohibiting abortions due to genetic abnormalities, and adding more hoops for doctors working at the state's one abortion clinic. On Wednesday, the libertarian-leaning Mercatus Center at George Mason University unveiled its annual "Freedom in the 50 States" report, ranking each state's fiscal, regulatory, and personal "freedom."
The Center's rankings are quite thorough—you can see where each stands based on dozens of variables, including taxation, tort reform, fireworks laws, same-sex partnerships, happy hour regulations, the legality of raw milk, and whether or not the state bans salvia. But one thing is pointedly happy from the methodology, despite its seemingly obvious consequences for individual and economic liberty: reproductive rights.
Congratulations, North Dakota. This award will look nice up on the mantle next to the anti-choice March Madness championship trophy.
On Wednesday, actress and public health activist Ashley Judd ended months of public speculation about her political future and announced she would not challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) next fall. Judd, who lives outside Nashville and would have had to establish residency in the Commonwealth, cited family commitments in an announcement on Twitter:
The case for Judd, on its surface, was pretty straightforward. She is young; capable of raising vast sums of money; and sufficiently beloved in the Bluegrass that Steve Beshear, the state's Democratic governor, calls her "Kentucky’s first daughter." McConnell, a fifth-term Republican, is the least popular senator in a chamber that currently includes Robert Menendez. His approach to legislating often seems like a manifestation of his own tortoise-like features—a plodding process that reached its apotheosis last December when he filibustered his own bill.
After hinting in January that she was seriously considering entering the race, Judd quickly became a conservative target. Karl Rove's American Crossroads launched a web ad mocking her Tennessee residency and liberal views, and Republican organizations touted her previous statements on mountain-top removal coal mining and the human rights abuses associated with Apple products. Judd, a three-time rape survivor whose international work deals with victims of sexual abuse, also became a subject of conservative mockery for her frequent discussion of rape—a cautious reminder that, a year after Todd Akin, Republicans still have trouble keeping their feet out of their mouths when they talk about the issue.
With Judd out of the picture, Democrats' best hope may be Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, a 34-year-old first-term officeholder with close ties to the Clintons. (The former president has reportedly encouraged Lundergan Grimes to consider running.)
Marriage equality is ascendant, you may have heard. But Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), for one, believes the question of who can and cannot marry is a settled issue in his state. "In Texas, it is fairly clear about where this state stands on that issue," Perry told the Dallas Morning News on Tuesday. "As recently as a constitutional amendment that passed—I believe, with 76 percent of the vote. The people of the state of Texas, myself included, believe marriage is between one man and one woman."
But Perry is, like many opponents of same-sex marriage, relying on some fairly dusty data sets. The constitutional amendment he's referring to passed in 2005 (it's 2013 now) and it banned same-sex civil unions in addition to same-sex marriages. Texans were really opposed to marriage equality then. James Henson and Joshua Blank of the Texas Politics Project have been paying a bit more attention to the numbers recently, though, and noticed a trend:
When we went back to examine the trend lines in the polls that included the gay marriage item, it became evident that overall opposition to same sex-marriage has been on a slow and steady decline, with some internal patterns of change among particular age, gender and partisan subgroups, including young people and suburbanites.
Perry would do well to consult this handy chart, from the TPP:
Texas Politics Project
Gay marriage is trending up, opposition to any legal recognition has trended down. Texas probably isn't going to go the way of Maryland and Washington anytime soon, but legal recognition of same-sex unions—which is prohibited under the 2005 constitutional amendment—is now the preference of six in ten Texans. And a majority of young Republicansnow support full marriage equality, suggesting that this trend is only going to continue, even if Texas doesn't start turning purple. Oops.