Political MoJo

First Gay Couple Can Marry In County Where Clerk Went To Jail

| Fri Sep. 4, 2015 9:39 AM EDT

On Friday, William Smith and James Yates became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Rowan County, Kentucky.

Since the Supreme Court's historic decision invalidating gay marriage bans nationwide in June, county clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue licenses to gay couples citing her religious beliefs. Her continued refusal to do so finally landed her in jail yesterday, after a federal judge held her in contempt of law.

U.S. District Judge David Bunning offered to release the defiant clerk if she promised not to prevent her deputies from processing same-sex couples. Five of the six deputies have agreed to do so. Davis' son, a deputy clerk, was the only one to refuse.

Davis' husband, who insisted his family's opposition to same-sex marriages did not mean they "hate these people," was reportedly seen outside the clerk's office on Friday holding a sign, "Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah."

Smith and Yates' license effectively ends the months-long showdown.

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Here's the Conservative Playbook for Tearing Down Black Lives Matter

| Fri Sep. 4, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
Protesters demonstrate at a Black Lives Matter rally.

In the wake of last Friday's murder of a Harris County, Texas, police deputy, Fox News pundits have bent over backward to find a way to connect the killing to the Black Lives Matter movement. A guest on the Fox talk show The Five on Monday called the movement a "criminal organization," and several hosts, including Bill O'Reilly, described it as a "hate group."

Harris County law enforcement officials have yet to determine a motive for the shooting, and suspect Shannon Miles had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial on a felony assault charge in 2012. But that hasn't stopped Fox News from showing a recent clip of protesters at the Minnesota State Fair chanting, "Pigs in a blanket, fry 'em like bacon," as pundits discussed the Texas killing, or from running inflammatory on-screen banners that read "Murder Movement" and "Black Lives Matter Taunts Cop Killings."

But this is not a new tactic from the right. Conservatives have long attempted to discredit black social movements by casting them as criminal. In fact, the law-and-order rhetoric they've espoused since the civil rights movement was invented to do just that.

In the 1950s, for example, Southern conservative lawmakers and law enforcement officials argued that acts of civil disobedience by black civil rights activists violated the law, and they criticized support for civil rights legislation as rewarding lawbreakers. Federal courts that struck down Jim Crow laws, they chided, were soft on crime.

The number of peaceful protests dwarfs the number that have seen looting, but conservative pundits insist Black Lives Matter protesters are "thugs" and that the movement's rhetoric encourages violence.

This rhetoric went mainstream in the late 1960s following the major civil rights victories of the decade. Richard Nixon and avowed segregationist George Wallace both ran on law-and-order platforms in the 1968 presidential election. In his speeches and political ads, Nixon appealed to the "non-shouters and non-demonstrators" who were "not racist" and "not guilty of the crime that plagued the land," contrasting them with protesters who had "cities up in smoke," a thinly veiled reference to the race riots of the decade. Nixon blamed the courts for "going too far in weakening the peace forces against the criminal forces." He used this coded language to appeal to racist voters at a time when overt racism was becoming less socially acceptable.

Conservative politicians, pundits, and voters continued using this language to rail against the Black Power movement in the 1970s and tie organizations like the Black Panther Party to neighborhood crime and increased drug use. They pointed to the ongoing race riots and the increase in urban crime that accompanied the migration of black Southerners to Northern cities during that period, as evidence that the Panthers' philosophy of armed self-defense was contributing to violence and criminal activity. Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971, prior to the explosion of the drug trade mid-decade, in a tough-on-crime move that functioned as a crackdown on the black people and communities that were supposedly "causing" crime, and the philosophy of racial equality that had contributed to it. (And similarly coded language was used to justify criminal-justice policies that targeted black communities and produced the nation's mass incarceration crisis in the late 1980s and 1990s.)

Now Fox News has targeted the Black Lives Matter movement in the same way. The movement is calling for an end to violence, and its national voices have condemned violence against the police on numerous occasions. But the right insists it is to blame for murders of police officers. The number of peaceful protests dwarfs the number that have seen looting and property destruction, but conservative pundits insist Black Lives Matter protesters are "thugs" and that the movement's rhetoric encourages violence. Just as they sought to discredit the movement to upset the Jim Crow social order, these right-wing voices now seek to discredit the movement to upend the current system of racist policing.

Murders of police aren't the fault of the Black Lives Matter movement. But don't expect to hear that on Fox News anytime soon.

Germany Has Taken In 800,000 Refugees. Guess How Many the US Has Taken In?

| Thu Sep. 3, 2015 6:10 PM EDT

Germany is set to take in 800,000 refugees by the end of the year.

America, a country that won two World Wars, went to the moon, and did "the other things," has taken in, well, far fewer.

Quoth the Guardian:

The US has admitted approximately 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011, mostly within the last fiscal year. Since April, the number of admitted refugees has more than doubled from an estimate of 700.

...

Anna Greene, IRC’s director of policy & advocacy for US programs, said the 1,500 people the US has admitted thus far “doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what is needed and what could really make a difference”.

Oxfam wants the US to up that number to 70,000 by the end of 2016.

Correction: This post and its headline originally said that Germany planned to take in 800,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. That is incorrect. It is 800,000 refugees total. 

Donald Trump Screws Up GOP Loyalty Pledge, Making it Extra-Meaningless

| Thu Sep. 3, 2015 2:41 PM EDT

On Thursday, Donald Trump pledged his fealty to the Republican Party with a largely meaningless pledge not to run as an independent candidate during the 2016 campaign for the White House. In doing so, it appears the billionaire presidential hopeful also affixed the wrong date to his signature:

Brilliant.

Kansas Republicans May Have Just Shut Down the State's Court System

| Thu Sep. 3, 2015 1:42 PM EDT

What happens to a legal appeal when there's no court to hear it?

That's the tricky question before Kansas Republicans today as they grapple with the results of their own law, which threatens to shutter the state court system.

On Wednesday night, a district judge in Kansas struck down a 2014 law that stripped the state Supreme Court of some of its administrative powers. The ruling has set off a bizarre constitutional power struggle between the Republican-controlled legislature and the state Supreme Court. At stake is whether the Kansas court system will lose its funding and shut down.

Last year, the Kansas legislature passed a law that took away the top court's authority to appoint chief judges to the state's 31 judicial districts—a policy change Democrats believe was retribution for an ongoing dispute over school funding between the Supreme Court and the legislature. (Mother Jones reported on the standoff this spring.) When the legislature passed a two-year budget for the court system earlier this year, it inserted a clause stipulating that if a court ever struck down the 2014 administrative powers law, funding for the entire court system would be "null and void." Last night, that's what the judge did.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt warned that last night's decision “could effectively and immediately shut off all funding for the judicial branch.” That would lead to chaos. As Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney for the Kansas judge who brought the legal challenge against the administrative law, put it, “Without funding, our state courts would close, criminal cases would not be prosecuted, civil matters would be put on hold, real estate could not be bought or sold, adoptions could not be completed."

Both parties in the case have agreed to ask that Wednesday's ruling remain on hold until it can be appealed to the state Supreme Court, so that there is a functioning court to hear the appeal. On Thursday, a judge granted the stay. Meanwhile, lawyers involved in the case and advocates for judicial independence are preparing a legal challenge to the clause of the judicial budget that withholds court funding. Sometime in the next few months, the state Supreme Court is likely to rule on whether the legislature has the right to strip the Supreme Court of its administrative authority, and whether it can make funding for the courts contingent on the outcome of a court case.

“We have never seen a law like this before," Randolph Sherman, a lawyer involved in fighting the administrative law, said in a statement, referring to the self-destruct mechanism in the judicial budget. "[I]t is imperative that we stop it before it throws the state into a constitutional crisis.”

This story has been updated.

Kentucky Clerk Held in Contempt of Court for Refusing to Issue Gay Marriage Licenses

| Thu Sep. 3, 2015 9:56 AM EDT

Update (9/3/2015, 1:09 p.m. EST): A federal judge has found Kim Davis in contempt of court. She has been taken into federal custody.

Explaining his decision, US District Judge David Bunning told Davis, "You don’t strike me as someone who's contentious. I simply [find that] making this contempt finding is necessary."

"Oaths means things," he added, according to the Guardian. Davis will be released if she agrees to comply with the judge's order to issue marriage licenses. "The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order," the judge said.

Kim Davis, the defiant Rowan county clerk who cited "God's authority" for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, appeared in court Thursday in Kentucky. Groups both supporting and opposing Davis held dueling, boisterous rallies in front of throngs of journalists outside the courthouse. US District Judge David Bunning heard a motion from lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union Davis arguing Davis should be held in contempt of court

The appearance came amid Davis's ongoing failure to comply with the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that invalidated gay marriage bans nationwide. Since the decision in June, Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses to both straight and same-sex couples. Despite the Supreme Court denial of her emergency application requesting a delay on Monday, Davis continued to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, creating testy scenes inside and outside the clerk's office, and drawing national attention.

The showdown in Kentucky, the first time the issue of same-sex marriage has returned to the Supreme Court since June, has become a lightening rod for gay marriage opponents who argue that Davis' religious beliefs should allow her to defy the constitutional mandate. Both legal experts and same-sex marriage supporters say she has no legal standing.

The scene on Thursday:

"The ACLU has asked she be fined in an amount sufficient to compel her compliance to the court's ruling," Ria Tabacco Mar, an ACLU attorney, told Newsweek. "No one wants Kim Davis to go to jail, we just want her to follow the law and do her job."

This is a breaking news post, and we'll update with more information as it becomes available.

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Hillary Clinton Announces Support to Ban Wall Street Bonuses for Government Officials

| Wed Sep. 2, 2015 3:33 PM EDT

On Monday, Hillary Clinton came out in support of legislation seeking to end the so-called "golden parachute" payouts that traditionally benefit private sector executives who take on jobs within the federal government—a practice long criticized by Wall Street reformers such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

"The American people need to be able to trust that every single person in Washington—from the President of the United States all the way down to agency employees—is putting the interests of the people first," Clinton wrote in an blog post for the Huffington Post, published Monday. "We want to do more to make sure that happens."

Clinton's backing of the the Financial Services Conflict of Interest Act comes after a report in the Intercept last month that revealed two senior-level State Department officials during her time as secretary, Thomas Nides and Robert Hormats, had received hefty payments from Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs respectively after taking on jobs with the State Department.

In July, Warren issued a challenge to all presidential candidates to support the legislation, calling it "a bill any presidential candidate should be able to cheer for."

"We have a presidential election coming up," she told a crowd in Phoenix. "I think anyone running for that job—anyone who wants the power to make every key economic appointment and nomination across the federal government—should say loud and clear that they agree: we don't run this country for Wall Street and mega corporations. We run it for people."

Clinton's announcement on Monday shows she is listening closely to what Warren has to say.

Since announcing her second run for president, the former secretary of state has embraced a number of policies close to Warren's heart, specifically on Wall Street reform. Last December, Clinton reportedly met privately with Warren to discuss her policy ideas. News of the conversation signaled Clinton could be ready to take a more populist approach to her campaign for the White House.

Freddie Gray Hearings Open Amid Police Clashes

| Wed Sep. 2, 2015 1:51 PM EDT

Hearings in the case against six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray began this morning against an all-too-familiar backdrop of police confrontations with protesters.

The first pretrial hearing of the case, involving six officers charged in Gray’s death in police custody, opened with victories for the prosecution, as a judge denied motions to dismiss the case and to recuse the state's attorney. Outside the courthouse, protesters clashed with police. People on the scene described police grabbing women, harassing members of the press, and restricting sidewalk access to the courthouse. Netta Elzie, a prominent black activist, also tweeted an account of Kwame Rose, another black activist and Baltimore resident, being hit by a police car and promptly arrested.

Inside the court, Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams denied motions to recuse State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby from the case and to dismiss charges because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct on behalf of Mosby. Defense attorneys for the six officers, who face charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to second-degree assault, argued that Mosby should recuse herself, citing her relationship to the Gray family's attorney and her husband's position as a city councilman as reasons for a conflict of interest.

This story will be updated as it develops.

Ted Cruz Blames President Obama for Inciting Murder of Texas Cop

| Wed Sep. 2, 2015 10:59 AM EDT

Following the brutal murder of Texas Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth over the weekend, Sen. Ted Cruz is blaming the Obama administration, especially the president, for inspiring anti-police sentiment and incidents of gun violence toward law enforcement officials.

"Cops across this country are feeling the assault," Cruz told reporters when campaigning in Milford, New Hampshire, on Monday. "They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down as we see. Whether it's in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials, of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement.

"That is fundamentally wrong, and it is endangering the safety and security of us all," he added.

The Texas senator and presidential hopeful even accused President Barack Obama of staying "silent" on Goforth's murder, when in fact the president condemned the shooting and violence against police officers as "completely unacceptable." On his way to Alaska on Monday, Obama also phoned Goforth's wife to express his condolences.

Cruz is hardly the first to denounce the president for provoking anti-police hostilities. Following the murders of two New York Police Department officers in December, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani went on Fox News and accused Obama of disseminating "propaganda" that "everybody should hate the police."

Kentucky Clerk Continues to Defy Supreme Court by Refusing to Issue Marriage License to Gay Couple

| Tue Sep. 1, 2015 10:44 AM EDT

The Supreme Court on Monday night denied an emergency application from a defiant Kentucky clerk who is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Today, Kim Davis, of the Rowan County Clerk's office, is once again refusing to comply with a lower court's order by denying marriage licenses to anyone, gay or straight.

When asked by a same-sex couple on Tuesday morning under whose authority she was failing to obey the high court, Davis answered, "under God's authority." She then told the crowd to leave and threatened to call the police.

The Supreme Court denied Davis's application to turn away same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses because it did not align with her religious beliefs. Her appeal marks the first time since June's historic Supreme Court decision that the justices have had to deal with the issue again.

If she continues to defy the court, Davis could be found in contempt and face possible jail time and fines. A hearing is set for Thursday.