Political MoJo

Gitmo Detainees Cite Hobby Lobby in New Court Filing. Read It Here.

| Mon Jul. 7, 2014 12:27 PM EDT

In a new court filing, attorneys for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have invoked the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed certain corporations to ignore the Obamacare contraception mandate if their owners object to it on religious grounds. The motions, filed with a Washington, DC, district court on behalf of Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan and Emad Hassan of Yemen, ask the court to bar military officials from preventing Gitmo inmates from participating in communal prayer during Ramadan.

"Hobby Lobby makes clear that all persons—human and corporate, citizen and foreigner, resident and alien—enjoy the special religious free exercise protections of the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act]," the lawyers argue.

A spokesman for the Department of Defense told Al Jazeera America on Friday that the "Defense Department is aware of the filing," and that the "government will respond through the legal system."

Read the emergency motion for a temporary restraining order below:

 

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 7, 2014

Mon Jul. 7, 2014 9:24 AM EDT

US Marines celebrate a change of command ceremony in South Carolina under the American flag. (US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Sarah Cherry)

WATCH: Now That Corporations Have Freedom of Religion, It's Time to Lay Out the Corporate Commandments [Fiore Cartoon]

| Fri Jul. 4, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

Mark Fiore is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a website featuring his work.

How Hobby Lobby Undermined The Very Idea of a Corporation

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 2:50 PM EDT
Justice Alito signs his oath card in the Justices Conference Room

Here's one more reason to worry about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed the arts and crafts chain to block insurance coverage of contraception for female employees because of the owners' religious objections: It could screw up corporate law.

This gets complicated, but bear with us. Basically, what you need to know is that if you and some friends start a company that makes a lot of money, you'll be rich, but if it incurs a lot of debt and fails, you won't be left to pay its bills. The Supreme Court affirmed this arrangement in a 2001 case, Cedric Kushner Promotions vs. Don King:

linguistically speaking, the employee and the corporation are different “persons,” even where the employee is the corporation’s sole owner. After all, incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a distinct legal entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.

"If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?" Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.

That's a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby's argument and hold the veil in place. Here's what they argued:

Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation. Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen.

In his opinion for Hobby Lobby, Justice Samuel Alito's insisted the decision should be narrowly applied to the peculiarities of the case. But as my colleague Pat Caldwell writes, the logic of the argument is likely to invite a tide of new lawsuits, all with their own unintended consequences.

Small wonder, then, that despite congressional Republicans defending the Hobby Lobby decision as a victory for American business against the nanny state, the US Chamber of Commerce—the country's main big business lobby—was quiet on the issue. Even more telling: Despite a record tide of friends-of-the-court briefs, not one Fortune 500 weighed in on the case. In fact, as David H. Gans at Slate pointed out in March, about the only sizeable business-friendly groups that did file briefs with the court were the US Women's Chamber of Commerce and the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Both sided against Hobby Lobby.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate: 47 Percent of Americans Are "Dependent on the Largesse of Government"

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:48 AM EDT

Colorado Republicans thought they'd dodged a bullet last month when primary voters chose former GOP Rep. Bob Beauprez as their gubernatorial nominee over Tom Tancredo, a former congressman and notorious anti-immigration activist. Not so much. On Wednesday, Democrats circulated a little-noticed 2010 video in which Beauprez rails against the 47 percent of the American population who he claims are dependent on government. Sound familiar?

From the Denver Post:

"I see something that frankly doesn't surprise me, having been on Ways and Means Committee: 47 percent of all Americans pay no federal income tax," Beauprez said in the video. "I'm guessing that most of you in this room are not in that 47 percent—God bless you—but what that tells me is that we've got almost half the population perfectly happy that somebody else is paying the bill, and most of that half is you all."

"I submit to you that there is a political strategy to get slightly over half and have a permanent ruling majority by keeping over half of the population dependent on the largesse of government that somebody else is paying for," Beauprez said.

Beauprez's comments, which came in an address to a local rotary club, bear an uncanny resemblance to the infamous remarks, first reported by Mother Jones, that Mitt Romney made to donors during his presidential campaign. (Romney's final tally: 47 percent of the vote.) A survey released by Rasmussen on Wednesday showed Beauprez running even with incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Obama Calls for a New Crackdown on Wall Street

| Thu Jul. 3, 2014 11:18 AM EDT

On Wednesday evening, President Barack Obama called for a new Wall Street crackdown, noting that more than five years after the financial crisis, banks still focus too much on gaining profits through often risky trading, instead of investing in Main Street America.

"More and more of the revenue generated on Wall Street is based on…trading bets, as opposed to investing in companies that actually make something and hire people," the president said in an interview with Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal. He called for "additional steps" to rein in the industry.

Obama's comments Wednesday represent one of the most pointed critiques he has made of the banking industry since he took office at the height of the financial crisis, and suggest that he may use his final two years in office to pursue further Wall Street reforms.

The president singled out big bonuses as a central problem plaguing the financial system. Banks can still "generate a huge amount of bonuses by making some big [trading] bets," he said. "If you make a really bad bet, a lot of times you've already banked all your bonuses. You might end up leaving the shop, but in the meantime everybody else is left holding the bag."

He did not offer specific policy cures, instead alluding to the need to "restructure" how banks work "internally."

The massive Dodd-Frank financial reform law that Congress passed in 2010 was supposed to keep banks from taking excess risks and prevent another economic collapse. Obama pointed out that much of that law has already gone into effect. Banks now have to keep more funds on hand to guard against an economic downturn or a bad trading bet, he said. The law created a new agency designed to prevent consumers from being duped by mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and student lenders. Last year, Wall Street regulators implemented a much-touted Dodd-Frank measure aimed at limiting the high-risk trading by commercial banks that helped lead to the 2008 economic crash.

But much is left to be done. Wall Street regulators have completed only about half of the banking rules mandated by Dodd-Frank. Scores of these regulations have been watered down by financial industry lobbyists. Congress has made many legislative attempts to weaken Dodd-Frank. Despite efforts to ensure that banks are no longer too-big-to-fail—or so large that their collapse would endanger the entire economic system—the largest banks are bigger than they were during the financial crisis.

Progressives fault the president for part of the lax response to the financial crisis. Under Obama's Justice Department, for example, no high-level bankers went to jail or faced criminal charges for actions that led to the financial crisis. And liberal critics slam Obama's economic team for focusing too heavily on bailing out banks after the crisis, and allowing the foreclosure crisis to fester.

It is unclear how Obama will push through additional Wall Street reforms. He has limited oversight of rule-making, and banking legislation is not likely to get through the current sharply divided Congress.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 3, 2014

Thu Jul. 3, 2014 9:26 AM EDT

Soldiers of the 423rd Military Police Company march in a departure ceremony before training and placement at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (US Army Reserve Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell)

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for July 2, 2014

Wed Jul. 2, 2014 10:04 AM EDT

A group of US Marines learns proper blade handling techniques in the Philippines.(US Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Schlosser.)

This Judge Just Destroyed the Stupidest Argument Against Gay Marriage Ever

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 1:54 PM EDT

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled Kentucky’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and issued a withering take-down of marriage equality opponents.

Kentucky had argued that legalizing gay marriage would harm the state's birth rate. "These arguments are not those of serious people," wrote US district judge John Heyburn. "Though it seems almost unnecessary to explain, here are the reasons why.

"Even assuming the state has a legitimate interest in promoting procreation, the Court fails to see, and Defendant never explains, how the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has any effect whatsoever on procreation among heterosexual spouses. Excluding same-sex couples from marriage does not change the number of heterosexual couples who choose to get married, the number who choose to have children, or the number of children they have.

"The state’s attempts to connect the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage to its interest in economic stability and in 'ensuring humanity’s continued existence' are at best illogical and even bewildering…The Court can think of no other conceivable legitimate reason for Kentucky’s laws excluding same-sex couples from marriage."

Heyburn stayed his ruling while Kentucky appeals, meaning no same-sex marriages are taking place just yet.

Read the full ruling:

 

Here Are 4 Lawsuits That Could Inflict More Damage on Unions After Harris v. Quinn

| Tue Jul. 1, 2014 12:05 PM EDT

On Monday, the Supreme Court's conservative justices on Monday defied some expectations by not decimating public-employee labor unions via their ruling in Harris v. Quinn. Given the opportunity to issue a sprawling decision that would overturn decades of precedent, and in the process kneecap the basic model of public-employee unionism, the five justices, led by Samuel Alito, instead issued a narrower decision. They ruled that home health care workers in Illinois are not full-fledged public workers and thus cannot be required to pay so-called fair-share fees to unions—money that goes toward the cost of union representation for all workers in a particular workplace.

But we may be back in this same situation a year from now, with the Supreme Court holding the fate of public-employee unions in its hands. That's because there are a handful of ongoing lawsuits in courts around the country that pose similar challenges to unions as Harris did and that could end up before the Supreme Court. It's possible that one of these cases could do further damage to the labor movement—with the potential to wipe out the precedent set in 1977's Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. (In Abood, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public-employee unions collecting fair-share fees from nonmembers to pay the costs of collective bargaining.)

If you're looking for a common thread between these challenges, it's the National Right-to-Work Legal Foundation, the driving force behind many anti-union suits around the country. The foundation represented the plaintiffs in Harris v. Quinn, and it has provided legal help in two of the following cases. 

Here's a snapshot of four cases that could be the next Harris:

  • D'Agostino v. Patrick: A group of home child care workers in Massachusetts filed suit after the state passed a law designating the SEIU as the exclusive union for those workers. Similar to the Illinois home care workers who brought the Harris suit, the Massachusetts workers claim their rights are being infringed on by being represented by SEIU, meaning union members and nonmembers pay dues in exchange for the benefits that come with union representation. This case is in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts.
  • Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association: A group of public school teachers in California claim that the requirement that they pay fair-share dues to the California Teachers Association infringes on their First Amendment rights. Their suit also seeks to ban the "opt-out" model of automatic dues deductions, in which teachers who pay dues must opt out to keep their money from funding union political activity. Instead, the plaintiffs want teachers to opt in to fund that political work. This case is with the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Parrish v. Dayton: After Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill in May 2013 allowing the state's child care providers to vote to unionize, opponents filed a suit similar to Harris to halt the new law. The suit was on hold pending the outcome of the Harris case. The plaintiffs hailed the Supreme Court's decision in Harris, and their lawyers now expect movement in Parrish.
  • Hamidi v. SEIU Local 1000: This suit targets the part of California law that allows public-employee unions to use the opt-out model for dues paying, as described above. If Hamidi, who works for the state's Franchise Tax Board, succeeds, his suit could take a bite out of Abood, which in part upheld the practice of opt-out clauses. Hamidi's case is currently in California district court.