Political MoJo

This Judge Just Condemned Wisconsin's Abortion Law as Unconstitutional. Read the Withering Ruling.

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 9:38 PM EST

The 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that a Wisconsin law requiring abortion providers to gain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals is unconstitutional.

The law that was struck down is known as a TRAP law—short for "targeted regulation of abortion providers." According to the Guttmacher Institute, Wisconsin is one of 11 states that have required similar admitting privileges. (Courts have blocked these requirements in six of those states.) The law is particularly effective in conservative regions where hospitals are less likely to grant those privileges to abortion providers. The law's supporters say the law ensures continuity of care if complications arise from the procedure. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that less than one half of 1 percent of all abortions involve major complications.

The 2-to-1 decision comes at a time when the constitutionality of TRAP laws are in question nationally. Just over a week ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to Texas' "HB 2," which decreased the state's number of abortion clinics from 41 to 18 by implementing a host of TRAP laws. The ruling, due next year, will be the most notable reproductive rights ruling since Roe v. Wade.

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the 7th Circuit majority, stated that the regulation qualifies as an "undue burden" and that the medical grounds for such a requirement is "nonexistent." Posner also had some words for abortion foes: "Opponents of abortion reveal their true objectives when they procure legislation limited to a medical procedure— abortion—that rarely produces a medical emergency."

Posner—nominated by President Ronald Reagan—is known for his tart legal arguments, as we've noted previously. This case is no exception:

A great many Americans, including a number of judges, legislators, governors, and civil servants, are passionately opposed to abortion—as they are entitled to be. But persons who have a sophisticated understanding of the law and of the Supreme Court know that convincing the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey is a steep uphill fight, and so some of them proceed indirectly, seeking to discourage abortions by making it more difficult for women to obtain them. They may do this in the name of protecting the health of women who have abortions, yet as in this case the specific measures they support may do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion. This is true of the Texas requirement, upheld by the Fifth Circuit in the Whole Woman's case now before the Supreme Court, that abortion clinics meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers—a requirement that if upheld will permit only 8 of Texas's abortion clinics to remain open, out of more than 40 that existed when the law was passed.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Planned Parenthood Launches Texas Legal Offensive to Fight Funding Cuts

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 5:27 PM EST
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards gives a high five to a supporter at a rally in Texas.

Planned Parenthood announced on Monday that it's suing Texas officials for stripping the organization of Medicaid funding, saying that the decision unfairly singles out Planned Parenthood and prevents women from accessing their chosen medical provider in violation of federal law.

Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, said the federal lawsuit aims to protect the 13,500 women on Medicaid who go to the organization for health care services. Ten patients also joined the lawsuit, all of whom are currently covered by Medicaid and would have to go elsewhere for health care unless the lawsuit is successful.

In October, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blocked Medicaid funding for the organization, citing safety concerns brought to his attention following the release of the now-infamous (and widely discredited) videos showing some of Planned Parenthood's staff discussing fetal tissue donation. Three days later, state officials also subpoenaed Planned Parenthood for the medical records of patients who donated fetal tissue in the past five years, in an attempt to find criminal activity. A Planned Parenthood representative called the move "unprecedented" and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the organization.

Texas is one of a handful of states that have taken aim at Planned Parenthood over its fetal tissue donation, a practice that is legal in the United States. Arkansas, Utah, and Alabama have also tried to cut Medicaid funding to the group, despite a warning from the Obama administration that doing so could violate federal law. In October, a federal judge blocked Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood in the state, saying the move would cause "irreparable harm" to the 5,200 women who depend on the organization for health care.

Many states have also launched investigations in the organization, though none so far have found any wrongdoing.

"Texas is a cautionary tale for the whole nation," Richards told reporters this morning. "Officials who oppose women's health may think they can bully us out of providing care for our patients, but we will not back down, and we will not shut our doors."

The Pfizer-Allergan Merger Uses a Tax Trick That Lets US Companies Stash Billions Overseas

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 1:55 PM EST

Earlier today, the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan announced a merger worth $160 billion. There's a wrinkle to this deal between the makers of Viagra and Botox: It's being facilitated by a controversial tax trick known as an inversion, which lets American companies move their headquarters abroad, avoiding the IRS while keeping executives stateside. If it goes through, the Pfizer-Allergan agreement will be the largest tax inversion ever.

Hillary Clinton has already criticized the pharma deal and has called for "cracking down on inversions that erode our tax base." In the past, President Barack Obama has slammed inversions as unpatriotic. His administration and congressional Democrats estimate that tax inversions will result in nearly $20 billion in lost taxes through 2024.

Inversions have been around since the early '80s, when a tax lawyer masterminded a move known as the "Panama Scoot". Since then, more than 100 companies have renounced their American citizenship. Here's where they went:

And inversions are just one of many ways US companies stash earnings abroad. Between 2008 and 2013, American firms had more than $2.1 trillion in profits held overseas—that's as much as $500 billion in unpaid taxes.


What You Need to Know About the Ongoing Lockdown in Brussels

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 12:20 PM EST
A Belgian Army soldier patrols in the Sablon District of Brussels on Monday.

Brussels remains under lockdown for the third straight day as authorities continue to hunt down suspects in connection with the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. As of Monday morning, a spokesman for the chief Belgian prosecutor said 21 people have been arrested in a series of anti-terror raids since Sunday.

But police officers are still searching for the primary target of these raids—Salah Abdeslam, the 26-year-old suspect believed to have taken part in the Paris attacks. Officials say Abdeslam's brother detonated himself in the Paris attacks.

Amid the crackdown, officials are also warning residents of a possible "serious and imminent attack" in the Belgian capital. Schools, underground public transit, and shopping centers are all closed, as Brussels remains at the highest level of terror alert.

Over the weekend, the police requested that residents refrain from posting details of the raids on social media and potentially tipping the suspects off in the process. Twitter users followed through by flooding the platform with photos of cats in order to show a moment of levity and stamp out any possible security leaks.

On Monday, British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that he will seek parliamentary support to launch new airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. The Guardian reports that US special operation forces will be deployed in Syria "very soon."

The Most Fascinating Thing About Donald Trump's Racist Tweet

| Mon Nov. 23, 2015 11:17 AM EST

On Sunday afternoon, @realDonaldTrump, the official Twitter handle of the Republican presidential front-runner, manually retweeted a deeply racist and inaccurate chart purporting to show racial crime statistics in America. As everyone in the world knows by now, the chart—created by Nazis!—is bullshit. Here's something that is fascinating about the whole episode: Donald Trump almost certainly did not send the tweet.

As I explained in September, only a vanishingly small number of @realDonaldTrump's tweets actually come from Trump himself. He dictates many of his tweets to aides. He sends some—a very small few—himself using an iPhone. And many manual retweets are sent by one of his staffers. Retweets presumably aren't the sort of thing he would be dictating. He's probably not on his phone listening to someone read his mentions and saying, "Retweet that one!" Sunday's tweet was sent from an Android. Trump tweets—when he rarely does—from an iPhone. It's very likely Trump did not send that retweet. Someone who works for him did. This isn't the fascinating thing.

The fascinating thing is that instead of a blaming the tweet on a subordinate—something they haven't been shy about doing in the past—the campaign has chosen to stay silent about it. They have apparently made the political calculation that it would be worse for Trump to acknowledge not sending the racist tweet than to endure a few days of stories about how racist he is. 

It's 2015, and if you're running for the Republican nomination for president, saying racist things doesn't hurt your poll numbers

An email to the Trump campaign seeking clarification on the authorship of the tweet was not immediately returned. 

Louisiana Just Voted to Give a Quarter of a Million People Health Care

| Sat Nov. 21, 2015 10:23 PM EST

Republican Sen. David Vitter lost his bid to be the next governor of Louisiana on Saturday, and it wasn't even close. The two-term senator lost the runoff election to Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards by double digits, setting the stage for the state to potentially become the first in the Deep South to accept a pivotal part of Obamacare.

Vitter was dogged by a decade-old prostitution scandal, and a bizarre spying incident at a coffee shop. Desperate to make up ground, he warned voters in one ad that President Barack Obama would release "thugs" from prison onto Louisiana streets. Vitter also sought to turn the tide by warning voters of a terrorist threat posed by the state's 14 Syrian refugees. He went as far as to allege (falsely, it turned out) that one of the refugees had gone missing. It didn't work.

Edwards, an anti-abortion, pro-gun West Point grad, became the first Democratic candidate to win a statewide election in Louisiana since 2008, and benefited from support from Republicans who were dissatisfied with Vitter's personal troubles and disappointed by the state's financial woes under outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal. (By the time Jindal dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday, the one-time rising star's approval ratings had dropped to 20 percent.)

Jindal also rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid. Edwards has pledged to sign an executive order authorizing the expansion of the program on his first day in office. That's a really big deal. Such a move would provide coverage to about 225,000 residents in one of the poorest states in the nation.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Alabama May Back Off Its Policy of Treating New Moms Like Meth Cooks

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:10 PM EST

A subcommittee of the Alabama Governor's Health Care Improvement Task Force is examining proposals that aim to reform the nation's harshest "chemical endangerment of a child" statute. The law states that "knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally" exposing a child to controlled substances or drug-making chemicals is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison if a child is unharmed, and 99 years if a child dies.

The enforcement of the law, originally intended to prosecute methamphetamine users who exposed children to the drug, has been unusually broad—including, as ProPublica's Nina Martin previously reported in Mother Jones, the prosecution of pregnant women for exposing their fetuses to even small amounts of anti-anxiety medication. Nearly 500 women have been arrested on related charges since the law passed in 2006.

The law has been criticized by civil rights groups and public health experts for being harmful to those who need the most help—women who are faced with poverty and addiction—and for unfairly prosecuting women who were not drug users at all, but who might have simply taken a small dose of medication that eventually appeared in the blood test of their new babies.

At the task force meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Darlene Traffanstedt, who heads the subcommittee, announced that three proposals were under consideration. One would require prosecutors to offer drug treatment to pregnant women instead of prosecuting them, while another would protect women using drugs that have been legally prescribed to them (which has not been the case since 2006). The third option would hold the law to its "original intent"  by preventing its use against women who are using pregnancy-related medication.

The subcommittee's next meeting is in December, and a draft bill is expected by the beginning of February's legislative session. Read more about the law and its consequences here.

Gunmen Take 170 Hostages Inside Mali Hotel

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 8:30 AM EST

Update, 11:13 a.m. EST: Multiple reports say the hostage situation is over. At least 27 people are reported dead.


At least three people are dead after gunmen—reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great"—seized control on Friday of a Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, Mali, where 170 people were taken hostage.

Security forces launched a counterassault mission, reportedly freeing 80 out of the initial 170 hostages as of this time.

The Times reports that the gunmen are also releasing Muslims but continuing to hold non-Muslims inside.

The hostage situation in Mali comes just one week after the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris. On Friday, French President Francois Hollande showed his solidarity with the Malian people.

"With the means we have in the area, we will do what is possible to obtain the freedom of the hostage," Hollande said. "Once again, terrorists want to mark with their barbaric presence all places where they can kill or massacre."

More Transgender People Have Been Killed in 2015 Than Any Other Year on Record

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EST
A memorial display at a vigil for India Clarke, a transgender woman killed in Tampa, Florida, in July

At vigils across the country today, people are honoring the victims of fatal anti-transgender violence as part of an annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. At least 21 transgender people have been killed in the United States already this year, which is more homicides than any other year on record, according to a recent report by Human Rights Campaign. During the first six months of the year alone, more transgender people were killed than in all of 2014. Most of the victims were transgender women of color. So far, none of the attacks have been deemed hate crimes.

On Tuesday, a congressional task force launched in response to the "epidemic of violence against the transgender community." The Transgender Equality Task Force, chaired by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who has a transgender granddaughter, aims to understand the causes of anti-transgender violence and identify what the federal government can do to improve the situation.

Activists say it's hard to know exactly how many transgender people are killed every year. One problem, they say, is that police officers often refer to transgender homicide victims with names and pronouns reflecting their gender of birth, rather than their gender identity. (For example, transgender women are often described by police officers as men.) And while the FBI last year began publishing statistics on hate crimes against gender-nonconforming people, the bureau's figures only reflect cases reported to authorities. Some crime-reporting programs at the state level have also opted, for budgetary reasons, not to collect data on hate crimes against transgender people, according to an FBI spokesman. Lauren Smith, a press contact for Honda, the chair of the congressional task force, said the issue of data collection has come up in discussions among task force members, but that the group won't be meeting until shortly after Thanksgiving to hammer out specific agenda items they hope to address.

Read more of MoJo's coverage on anti-transgender violence here.

Kansas Asks Its Entire Supreme Court to Step Aside in Key Case

| Fri Nov. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Kansas Republicans believe they have created a law that their own high court cannot review.

In the latest twist of the topsy-turvy constitutional showdown between the GOP-controlled state legislature and the state Supreme Court, the Kansas attorney general has asked the entire Kansas Supreme Court to recuse itself from hearing a key case.

The power struggle between Kansas Republicans and the state's highest court goes back to a years-long battle over education funding. The state Supreme Court has repeatedly ordered the legislature to spend more money on public education, a request that conflicts with Republicans' desire to cut taxes. In 2014, the legislature passed a bill stripping the Supreme Court of the administrative authority to appoint chief judges in Kansas' 31 judicial districts, a move Democrats saw as a power play by the legislature to intimidate the top court during the ongoing fight over school spending. Chief District Court Judge Larry Solomon challenged the constitutionality of the judicial administration law, arguing that it violates the state's separation of powers.

But the legislature doubled down. Earlier this year, it passed a judicial budget that would cut off funding for the entire Kansas court system if the courts struck down the judicial administration bill—a situation that would seize critical state functions such as criminal prosecutions, civil disputes, real estate sales, and adoptions. That led to the bizarre moment in September when a district court ruled the administrative bill unconstitutional, putting all the funding for the state courts in sudden jeopardy. The situation threatened to devolve into a judicial catch-22, in which no court could rule on the legality of the laws because those laws had defunded them. To avoid that situation, the judge put a hold on his ruling invalidating the law until the state Supreme Court could hear the case—except that the state of Kansas is now arguing that the Supreme Court shouldn't have its say.

Rather than let the case proceed to the Supreme Court, Attorney General Derek Schmidt argued in a brief last week that the justices should not hear the case because the law involves the court's authority. Schmidt's brief also notes that the chief justice of the Supreme Court criticized the law when it passed, betraying his bias against the law.

Under Kansas law, Supreme Court justices can appoint district court judges to sit in their place when they recuse themselves. But Schmidt argues that a district court judge shouldn't be involved either because the law involves appointing chief judges at the district court level. Instead, Schmidt proposes that judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals—just below the level of the Supreme Court and above the district courtsreview the case. (Perhaps not coincidentally, in 2013, the Republican-controlled legislature changed the selection process for appeals court judges. Before then, a commission nominated potential judges for the governor to choose from; now the judges are appointed directly by the governor, currently Republican Sam Brownback. The judges most sympathetic to the Republican legislature may be those at the appeals court level.)

Lawyers fighting the judicial administration bill believe the recusal request is frivolous. As they wrote in a brief this week, "centuries of precedent make clear that it is the province and duty of this Court to decide cases that involve the scope of the Court’s authority, jurisdiction, and duties vis-à-vis the other branches of government." In a response filed Thursday, the state held firm that the highest court should not hear the case.