Political MoJo

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.

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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.

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.

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Pope Francis Will Allow Priests to Forgive Women Who Have Had Abortions

| Tue Sep. 1, 2015 9:58 AM EDT

On Tuesday, Pope Francis announced that during the church's upcoming Holy Year of Mercy, which runs from December 8, 2015, to November 20, 2016, he will allow priests the discretion to forgive women who have had abortions. The move effectively lifts the church's policy that can lead to women being excommunicated for procuring an abortion, for the time being at least. In normal circumstances, these women are required to seek forgiveness from a senior priest who specializes in such confessions, which can be a complicated process.

In a letter from the Vatican, Francis called on the church to practice mercy toward women who seek such forgiveness:

For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil (sic) this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence.

While the announcement still condemns abortions as a major transgression—a Vatican spokesman on Tuesday emphasized the decision is by "no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of the sin"—the move continues what some are calling Francis' more progressive papacy, compared with that of his predecessors.

Donald Trump Goes Willie Horton on Jeb Bush

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 3:31 PM EDT

Donald Trump's latest attack on Jeb Bush may strike a familiar chord for those who remember the 1988 presidential race.

On Monday afternoon, Trump released a video on Instagram that assails Bush for a supposedly lenient stance on undocumented immigration. The video cites a 2014 quote from Bush in which he referred to people who illegally cross the border: "Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony; it's an act of love." Then the attack ad flashes pictures of three undocumented immigrants, all charged with murder. (Only one of the trio has been convicted.)

The ad is reminiscent of the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad, aired by George H.W. Bush supporters, that accused Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis of being soft on crime by supporting a state program that allowed weekend passes for prisoners. (Horton, who was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in Massachusetts, raped a woman while out on a furlough.) The ad sparked a controversy, with critics claiming it exploited—or fueled—racist sentiments. 

Here's the new Trump ad:


This is no "act of love" as Jeb Bush said...

A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on


Here's the Willie Horton spot:

Breaking: Another Massive Explosion Rocks Industrial City in China

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 3:19 PM EDT

Another huge explosion has erupted in China, this time in the eastern city of Dongying, according to the People's Daily, a Chinese state-run newspaper:

The cause of the blast is not yet known. Earlier in August, the city of Tianjin, one of China's largest industrial shipping centers, was rocked by massive explosions inside warehouses that reportedly stored hazardous chemicals and "explosive materials." The explosions killed at least 150 people.

This is a breaking news post. We will update as more information becomes available.

Ohio Republicans Are Freaking Out About the Denali Name Change

| Mon Aug. 31, 2015 11:36 AM EDT

On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced that the official name for the highest peak in North America, Alaska's Mount McKinley, would formally be changed to its Athabascan name: Denali. This makes a lot of sense. The mountain was known as Denali long before a gold prospector dubbed it McKinley after reading a newspaper headline in 1896, and it has officially been known as "Denali" in Alaska for about a century, according to the state's board for geographic names. The state and its Republican legislature have been asking Washington to call the mountain Denali for decades. And for decades, the major obstacle to getting this done has been Ohio, McKinley's home state.

We need not spend much time discussing Ohio in this space, but suffice it to say that Ohioans are a very proud, if sometimes misinformed, people, and the birthplace of mediocre presidents won't just take the marginalization of those mediocre presidents lying down. It will fight! To wit, the state's congressional delegation has decided to show off that old Ohio fighting spirit by condemning the decision in sternly worded press releases and tweets. Here's GOP Sen. Rob Portman:

No it wasn't! McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The mountain was named McKinley in 1896, by a random gold prospector who had just returned from the Alaskan Range to find that the governor of Ohio had won the Republican presidential nomination. This is like naming the highest point in the continent after Mitt Romney. Is Portman suggesting that the fix was in as early as 1896? Did Czolgosz really act alone? Was Teddy Roosevelt in on it? My God! Congress did pass a law in 1917 formally recognizing McKinley as the mountain's name, but that was really just paperwork.

Let's see what else they've got:

The Spanish-American War hadn't happened yet in 1896—William Randolph Hearst wouldn't start that for another two years! Okay. Here's GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, all but engraving his sternly worded response on obsidian:

Job-killing name change!

I haven't seen this much loathing directed at Denali since the last time I went on Yelp.