MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en California's Wildfires Just Tripled in Size <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When it comes to forest fires, California can't seem to catch a break.</p> <p>Last year was <a href="" target="_blank">a hellacious one</a> for uncontrolled burns, and 2016 is looking just as bad. In the past week, the number of acres scorched by wildfire has tripled from around 32,000 to more than 98,000, according to the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The number of fires the department, known simply as Cal Fire, has responded to is slightly above the seasonal five year average. But it's early in the fire season. (California's 2013 <a href="" target="_blank">Rim Fire</a>, the largest ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada, began in early August and blazed on into October, torching more than 257,000 acres.)</p> <p>Local, state, and federal firefighters have already dealt with more than 2,400 wildfires so far this season, say's Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire&rsquo;s information officer. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown <a href="" target="_blank">declared a state of emergency</a> for Southern California&rsquo;s Kern County, where the largest of those conflagrations still rages; the Eskrine fire covers more than 45,000 acres and is only 40 percent contained. It has killed two people so far, destroying 150 homes and damaging 75.</p> <p>In recent years, drought conditions have fueled fires across the state. El Ni&ntilde;o conditions brought badly needed rain this past winter, but the wetter conditions also begat a bumper crop of grasses that are now reduced to dry fuel. &ldquo;The rain is always a blessing and a curse,&rdquo; Berlant says.</p> <p>In addition, thanks to prolonged drought and <a href="" target="_blank">hungry bark beetles</a>, California has more than 66 million dead trees, the US Forest Service estimates&mdash;more than double last year's count. In short, the state is a tinderbox.</p> <p>Ahead of the July 4 weekend, Cal Fire officials warn that they'll be confiscating illegal fireworks. They're also <a href="" target="_blank">urging residents to keep fireworks away </a>from dry, flammable materials. Which should be pretty obvious, but sadly...</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">A DC10 attacks a fire in Southern California <a href="">#fire</a> <a href="">#firefighting</a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Adam Housley (@adamhousley) <a href="">June 22, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">#ErskineFire</a>: 50-60 homes lost. Estimated 2000 acres in size and growing. 0% containment. <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Kern County Fire (@kerncountyfire) <a href="">June 24, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en"><a href="">#ErskineFire</a> [update] Lake Isabella (Kern County) remains 36,810 acres &amp; 10% contained. <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; CAL FIRE (@CAL_FIRE) <a href="">June 26, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Death toll could rise in California wildfire that has killed 2, burned 57.5 square miles. <a href=""></a> <a href=""></a></p> &mdash; Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) <a href="">June 26, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script></body></html> Environment Climate Desk Top Stories Mon, 27 Jun 2016 20:33:58 +0000 Will Greenberg 307766 at Trump Calls Elizabeth Warren "Very Racist" for Claiming Native American Heritage <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Donald Trump augmented his attacks on Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday, slamming the Hillary Clinton surrogate for her claims of Native American heritage and calling her "very racist."</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">"She made up her heritage," Trump tells me of Elizabeth Warren. Adds "what she did was very racist." Again calls her "Pocahontas." (more tk)</p> &mdash; Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) <a href="">June 27, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Crooked Hillary is wheeling out one of the least productive senators in the U.S. Senate, goofy Elizabeth Warren, who lied on heritage.</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">June 27, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Trump's comments come on the heels of Warren&rsquo;s first campaign appearance with Hillary Clinton on Monday morning. Warren kept up her fiery invective against Trump, <a href="" target="_blank">describing him as</a> "a thin-skinned bully who is driven by greed and hate."</p> <p>This isn't the first time the presumptive GOP nominee&mdash;who has a <a href="" target="_blank">history</a> of <a href="" target="_blank">racist</a> <a href="" target="_blank">comments</a>&mdash;has accused Warren of "racist" actions and of benefiting from affirmative action. Earlier this month, the two faced off over his claims on Twitter:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Goofy Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to as Pocahontas, pretended to be a Native American in order to advance her career. Very racist!</p> &mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">June 11, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Get your facts straight, <a href="">@realDonaldTrump</a>. I didn&rsquo;t even go to Harvard &ndash; I&rsquo;m a graduate of <a href="">@UHouston</a> and <a href="">@RutgersU</a>.</p> &mdash; Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) <a href="">May 26, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Trump has <a href="" target="_blank">taken heat</a> for repeatedly referring to Warren as "Pocahontas" or "the Indian." He <a href="" target="_blank">responded</a> last week that he regretted calling her that name&mdash;but only because &ldquo;it&rsquo;s a tremendous insult to Pocahontas.&rdquo;</p> <p>Scott Brown, the Republican whom Warren defeated for her Senate seat in 2012, joined Trump's attack on Warren with a request that she take a DNA test.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Scott Brown challenging Elizabeth Warren to take a DNA test to prove her native american heritage.</p> &mdash; Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) <a href="">June 27, 2016</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>Brown, now a prominent Trump surrogate, may still be sore from the verbal lashing Warren gave him at the New Hampshire Democratic Party convention earlier this month. "I hear Donald Trump is floating Scott Brown as a possible running mate," Warren <a href="" target="_blank">said</a>. "And I thought, 'Ah, so Donald Trump really does have a plan to help the unemployed.'"</p> <p>During their 2012 battle, Brown <a href="" target="_blank">called on Warren</a> to release records proving that she had never received an advantage because of her heritage. She refused.</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Donald Trump Mon, 27 Jun 2016 19:16:40 +0000 Delphine d'Amora 307796 at Supreme Court: Texas Law Plainly Provided No Bona Fide Health Benefits <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Today's abortion decision is good news for supporters of reproductive rights, but it didn't provide much guidance about what it means for a law to place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions. The majority opinion ruled that Texas's law failed the test laid out in <em>Casey</em>, which balances the burden a law places on women seeking abortions with the benefit the law confers. The problem is that HB2 so plainly provided no benefit that it wasn't really a hard call. Here is Justice Breyer on the requirement that doctors performing abortions <a href="" target="_blank">have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, <strong>Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.</strong></p> <p>....That brief describes the undisputed general fact that <strong>&ldquo;hospitals often condition admitting privileges on reaching a certain number of admissions per year.&rdquo;</strong>...The president of Nova Health Systems...pointed out that it would be difficult for doctors regularly performing abortions at the El Paso clinic to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals because &ldquo;[d]uring the past 10 years, over 17,000 abortion procedures were performed at the El Paso clinic [and n]ot a single one of those patients had to be transferred to a hospital for emergency treatment, much less admitted to the hospital.&rdquo; In a word, <strong>doctors would be unable to maintain admitting privileges or obtain those privileges for the future, because the fact that abortions are so safe meant that providers were unlikely to have any patients to admit.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>And here he is on the requirement that abortion providers meet the requirements for surgical centers:</p> <blockquote> <p>The record makes clear that the <strong>surgical-center requirement provides no benefit</strong> when complications arise in the context of an abortion produced through medication. That is because, in such a case, <strong>complications would almost always arise only after the patient has left the facility.</strong></p> <p>Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death, but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient&rsquo;s own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion.</p> </blockquote> <p>The majority opinion relied primarily on reams of real-world evidence that made it crystal clear that HB2 provided no bona fide safety benefits. Unfortunately, that means that no real discussion of "undue burden" was required, so it's not clear what effect this case will have as precedent. We'll have to wait and see what lower courts do with it and how the anti-abortion forces rewrite their laws in order to get another crack at a different ruling.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jun 2016 18:47:22 +0000 Kevin Drum 307801 at Britain Is a Total Mess Right Now <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The day before the Brexit vote, Nick Clegg, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, wrote a piece titled <a href="" target="_blank">"What you will wake up to if we vote to Leave..."</a> It's astonishingly prescient and worth a read. Apparently not very many people believed him, though.</p> <p>But he was totally right, and no one knows what the hell is going on anymore. The process of leaving the EU officially starts when Britain invokes Article 50 of the EU charter, but oddly enough, no one seems to be especially eager to do <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_boris_johnson_car.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">that. David Cameron, the caretaker prime minister, has announced that he doesn't plan to do this anytime soon, and Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexit forces, <a href="" target="_blank">seems to be OK with that:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Mr. Johnson offered no details about when or how Britain should invoke Article 50 &mdash; the formal process for leaving the European Union &mdash; nor did he lay out a plan for how Britain could maintain free trade with the European Union, the world&rsquo;s largest common market, without accepting the bloc&rsquo;s demand for the unrestricted movement of workers.</p> </blockquote> <p>Meanwhile, the pound continues to fall and the financial community <a href="" target="_blank">continues to panic.</a> Tomorrow the Labor Party will hold a vote of confidence on its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, which he's expected to lose by a landslide. Scotland is threatening to secede yet again. And the EU is saying that if Britain wants to retain access to the common market, then they have to <a href="" target="_blank">accept free immigration too:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>If it wants access to the bloc&rsquo;s single market, post-Brexit Britain must accept EU freedom of movement rules and the supremacy of the European Court of Justice, EU diplomats have warned ahead of a vital summit. <strong>The idea that Britain could have access under a European Economic Area style deal and impose border controls was a non-starter, diplomats said.</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>Well, who knows? Maybe that's just their opening negotiating position. But the Brexiteers are in for some serious trouble if it turns out that the price of access to the European market is the very thing that prompted their victory in the first place.</p> <p>What a mess. And all for nothing.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:33:00 +0000 Kevin Drum 307786 at Clinton Campaign Hopes Progressive Party Platform Will Finally End the Primary <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As Hillary Clinton moves to unite the Democratic Party behind her presidential candidacy, her campaign is hoping a progressive party platform drafted this weekend will win over recalcitrant supporters of Bernie Sanders. But even though a number of top liberal priorities made it into the platform, Sanders says the fight over the party's policy positions is not over yet&mdash;and, by extension, neither is the political battle for the support of the party's left flank.</p> <p>The draft platform embraces many progressive goals, including long-shot proposals that liberals have pushed for years. The platform supports a $15 minimum wage and an end to the death penalty. (Clinton supports the death penalty in rare cases.) It calls for a modern-day version of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which erected a wall between commercial and investment banks until President Bill Clinton signed its repeal in 1999. It aims to impose a surtax on millionaires, expand Social Security, and repeal the anti-abortion <a href="" target="_blank">Hyde Amendment</a>.</p> <p>Sanders had a significant say in the drafting process. He appointed five members of the 15-member Platform Drafting Committee. The Clinton campaign appointed six, and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chose four. The draft was approved in St. Louis by 14 of the 15 members. One Sanders appointee, Cornel West, abstained.</p> <p>The Clinton campaign, eager to win over Sanders supporters, quickly praised the platform. Clinton senior policy adviser Maya Harris called it "the most ambitious and progressive platform our party has ever seen" in a statement issued Saturday, and one that "reflects the issues Hillary Clinton has championed throughout this campaign."</p> <p>Sanders, on the other hand, was more tepid in his evaluation. In a statement released Sunday, he called it "a very good start," but added that "there is no question that much more work remains to be done by the full Platform Committee when it meets in Orlando on July 8 and 9"&mdash;the next step in the process before the delegates vote on the platform at the Democratic National Convention that begins July 25 in Philadelphia. Sanders points to several priorities that were left out of the platform, including a ban on fracking, a carbon tax, and a provision opposing a congressional vote later this year on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. On these issues, Sanders says, the fight is not over yet. "We intend to do everything we can to rally support for our amendments in Orlando and if we fail there to take the fight to the floor of the convention in Philadelphia," he said.</p> <p>Sanders noted that Clinton's appointees to the Platform Drafting Committee voted down a requirement that the United States run entirely on clean energy by 2050. The Clinton campaign, by contrast, praised the platform's "ambitious" goal of "generating 50 percent of our electricity from clean sources within a decade." On trade, Sanders' slammed the decision by Clinton allies on the committee who voted down the anti-TPP provision. The Clinton campaign touted a different provision that did make it into the platform's trade language, which calls for prioritizing workers' rights, labor rights, and the environment. (Clinton now opposes TPP, but while it was still being hammered out, she <a href="" target="_blank">called it</a> "the gold standard in trade agreements.")</p> <p>"An amendment adopted yesterday further emphasized the fact that many Democrats oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership because 'the agreement does not meet the standards set out in this platform,'" Harris, the Clinton aide, said in her statement. "Hillary Clinton is one of those Democrats, and has been strongly and unequivocally on the record opposing TPP. Just this week, she said, 'We will defend American jobs and American workers by saying "no" to bad trade deals and unfair trade practices, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.'"</p></body></html> Politics 2016 Elections Hillary Clinton Mon, 27 Jun 2016 17:05:04 +0000 Pema Levy 307756 at OECD Report: Pure Math > Applied Math <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Over at the <em>Washington Monthly</em>, Jill Barshay reports on the latest study <a href="" target="_blank">comparing math instruction between nations:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Researchers looked at math instruction in 64 countries and regions around the world, and found that <strong>the difference between the math scores of 15-year-old students who were the most exposed to pure math tasks and those who were least exposed was the equivalent of almost two years of education.</strong> The research was based on how students answered survey questions that accompanied an international test, called the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA.</p> <p>The result was surprising for two reasons. First, the PISA exam itself is largely a test of applied math, not equation-solving....<strong>It&rsquo;s also surprising because many veteran educators recommend using real-world applications of abstract math concepts as a motivational tool.</strong> And the OECD doesn&rsquo;t disagree. But real-world examples aren&rsquo;t enough. Students still need to learn the broad concepts and the mathematical notation. In South Korea, for example, students get a big dose of both applied and pure math instruction and they score among the top 10 in the world.</p> </blockquote> <p>I browsed through the <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> myself, and unless I missed something I can't say that these results surprise me even slightly. As the report notes, kids are tracked into different kinds of math instruction in most schools, and the brighter kids are therefore exposed to more advanced math than the others. That's both normal and necessary, and the only real question is whether it's done properly. If poor kids are tracked into less advanced classes at unfairly high levels, then we have a problem. Here's what the report says about that:</p> <blockquote> <p>Across the OECD countries, socio-economic differences among students and schools account for around 9%&nbsp;&mdash; and some countries, as much as 20%&nbsp;&mdash; of the variation in familiarity with mathematics concepts.</p> </blockquote> <p>That's surprising all right, but mainly because 9 percent is a pretty low number. I would have guessed higher. What we're primarily left with here is that some kids are better at math than others; those who are good at math take more advanced classes; and more advanced classes expose them to more abstract concepts. So where's the surprise?</p> <p>As for the ability to solve real-world problems, there's no surprise there either. I doubt the difference is due to the kinds of math the kids are exposed to. It's due to the fact that some kids are better at math than others in the first place and have taken more advanced classes. The PISA exam may be a test of applied math, but obviously you have to know the underlying pure math too.</p> <p>Finally, one related note: I've always wondered about the use of using real-world problems as a "motivational tool." The problem is that once you get past the level of basic arithmetic, real-world problems tend to be pretty artificial. There just aren't very many real-world applications of high school algebra or geometry, and I've often wondered if story problems only make that more obvious. In introductory algebra, for example, you often get problems about trains meeting or how much of a head start someone on foot needs to get somewhere before a car would. Those are so obviously non-useful, though, that they also seem non-motivational. If this is all you can do with algebra, why bother?</p> <p>I don't think there's a good answer to this. Real life just doesn't require much in the way of algebra or geometry for most people. But I guess you have to try.</p> <p><img align="middle" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_pisa_familiarity_with_mathematics.jpg" style="margin: 15px 0px 5px 0px;"></p></body></html> Kevin Drum Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:59:57 +0000 Kevin Drum 307781 at Justices Alito and Thomas Throw Hissy Fits Over the Abortion Decision <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>With the late Justice Antonin Scalia no longer on the Supreme Court, it was up to Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas to object passionately to Monday's decision that <a href="" target="_blank">invalidated a Texas law</a> imposing onerous restrictions on abortion clinics. Alito was so upset that he read a summary of his dissent from the bench. Thomas wrote a fiery dissent of his own, and he and Chief Justice John Roberts also signed on to Alito's dissent.</p> <p>In that opinion, Alito slammed the majority, claiming it "simply disregards basic rules that apply in all other cases." He asserted, "The Court's patent refusal to apply well-established law in a neutral way is indefensible and will undermine public confidence in the Court as a fair and neutral arbiter." He was essentially saying the five justices who backed the decision&mdash;the four liberal justices and swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy&mdash;were treating the abortion providers of Texas with undue favoritism. He howled that it was unfair that the majority had thrown out the entire Texas law, not just the most egregious portions.</p> <p>Focusing in great detail on a technical legal matter, Alito complained mightily that the Supreme Court granted the petitioners leeway to pursue the case after it should have been shut down. He also challenged the evidence presented by abortion providers to back up their contention that the Texas law had led to the closure of abortion clinics for no good reason. He ended his dissent with this put-down: "When we decide cases on particularly controversial issues, we should take special care to apply settled procedural rules in a neutral manner. The Court has not done that here."</p> <p>While reading the summary of the dissent, Alito groused, "If at first you don&rsquo;t succeed, sue, sue again." He said that in any other case, the court would have stuck to procedural rules, but "this is an abortion case, so the regular rules don't apply." As Alito spoke, Justice Elena Kagan, a member of the majority who was sitting next to him, kept rubbing her forehead.</p> <p>Alito's dissent was stinging in a legal-wonky way. It did not rely on Scalia-like punches. Thomas offered a more sweeping condemnation. In his own dissent&mdash;which he did not read from the bench&mdash;he griped, "The Court should abandon the pretense that anything other than policy preferences underlies its balancing of constitutional rights and interests in any given case." Thomas repeatedly hammered the justices in the majority for caring more about outcomes than the law itself. "As the Court applies whatever standard it likes to any given case," he huffed, "nothing but empty words separates our constitutional decisions from judicial fiat."</p> <p>Thomas objected to the idea that abortion providers have constitutional standing to object on behalf of their patients. "This suit is possible only because the Court has allowed abortion clinics and physicians to invoke a putative constitutional right that does not belong to them&mdash;a woman&rsquo;s right to abortion," he wrote. He viewed this new decision as a radical reversal of Supreme Court precedent following the <em>Planned Parenthood v. Casey </em>decision of 1992 that permitted some restrictions on abortion. "The majority's undue-burden test looks far less like our post-<em>Casey</em> precedents and far more like the strict-scrutiny standard that Casey rejected," Thomas wrote, "under which only the most compelling rationales justified restrictions on abortion." In other words: You guys just flipped the past 25 years of abortion law without acknowledging it.</p> <p>Thomas is an absolutist, and he suggested that all abortion rulings of the last four decades are illegitimate because the Supreme Court erred in its famous 1973 <em>Roe v. Wade</em> decision by affirming a constitutional right to abortion. "I remain fundamentally opposed to the Court's abortion jurisprudence," he wrote.</p> <p>Add it all together and Thomas sounds about as gloomy regarding the Supreme Court as his late compatriot Scalia, who died in February. "Unless the Court abides by one set of rules to adjudicate constitutional rights," Thomas wrote, "it will continue reducing constitutional law to policy-driven value judgments until the last shreds of its legitimacy disappear."</p> <p>In the final paragraph of his angry dissent, Thomas proclaimed in dark fashion, "[T]he entire Nation has lost something essential." He backed this assertion up with an all-is-lost quotation from a law review article claiming, "[W]e have passed the point where 'law,' properly speaking, has any further application." That article was written by Scalia.</p></body></html> Politics Reproductive Rights Supreme Court Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:32:22 +0000 Patrick Caldwell and David Corn 307746 at Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren Just Joined Up to Tear Donald Trump Apart <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren took a little trip to Ohio today to see the sights, do some antiquing, and eviscerate Donald Trump.</p> <p>Here's the distinguished senator from Massachusetts up first:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="true" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="354" scrolling="no" src=";show_text=0&amp;width=630" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" width="639"></iframe></p> <p>And now, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee:</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="true" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="354" scrolling="no" src=";show_text=0&amp;width=630" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>They have a pretty good buddy cop situation going on here. Maybe Clinton will make her VP after all?</p></body></html> Contributor Video 2016 Elections Donald Trump Hillary Clinton elizabeth warren Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:30:34 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 307776 at Here's Why Today's Supreme Court Decision on Abortion Is So Important <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>This morning, the Supreme Court issued a 5-3 ruling in <em>Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt</em>, widely considered the most important abortion case to come before the high court in several decades. The ruling, which strikes down several stringent abortion restrictions passed in Texas, is a historic victory for abortion rights advocates. As a result, the 18 abortion clinics currently operating in Texas will be able to stay open, and rules in seven other states that were similar to those that were just reversed in Texas could also be invalidated.</p> <p>At issue in the case were two requirements of HB 2, an omnibus abortion law passed in Texas in 2013. One mandated that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and the other required abortion clinics to meet the strict infrastructure standards of ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs)&mdash;hospital-like facilities usually used for outpatient surgery.</p> <p>"Both the admitting-privileges and the surgical-center requirements place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, constitute an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violate the Constitution," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer in his majority opinion.</p> <p>The court's reversal of these provisions means that Texas has narrowly avoided a crisis in abortion access. In the wake of HB 2's passage in 2013, more than half of Texas' 41 abortion clinics were forced to close because of the restrictive portions of the law. Had the court upheld the admitting privileges and ASC requirements of HB 2, 8 of the remaining 18 clinics in the state would have been forced to close, leaving just 10 clinics to serve 5.4 million Texas women of reproductive age, and eliminating access to abortion clinics in the 500 miles between El Paso and San Antonio.</p> <p>This decision also means that the court has helped clear up the legal question of what exactly constitutes an "undue burden" on abortion access for women in states outside the 5th Circuit. The court's 1992 decision in<a href="" target="_blank"> <em>Planned Parenthood v. Casey</em> </a>affirmed states' rights to regulate abortion but set the "undue burden" standard for any rules that might limit a woman's access to abortion care. As state-level abortion restrictions have proliferated in the last five years, courts have disagreed widely on how to interpret this rule. <em>Whole Woman's Health</em> was an opportunity to clarify the definition of "undue burden," and potentially transforms what is permitted and prohibited in state-level abortion restrictions.</p> <p>What's more, the decision makes clear that the argument that has been made over and over by anti-abortion groups to justify new clinic restrictions across the nation&mdash;that they improve women's health&mdash;will be much more difficult to make going forward without hard evidence.</p> <p>Justice Breyer explains several times in his opinion that the court did not buy Texas' argument that the admitting privileges and ASC requirements benefit women's health. "Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death," he wrote, "but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient's own home. Colonoscopy, a procedure that typically takes place outside a hospital (or surgical center) setting, has a mortality rate 10 times higher than an abortion." Breyer adds in a parenthetical that he repeated from the bench, and that Justice Kagan mentioned during oral arguments in March: "The mortality rate for liposuction, another outpatient procedure, is 28 times higher than the mortality rate for abortion."</p> <p>Of the admitting privileges requirement, Breyer writes bluntly, "We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case."</p> <p>Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg piled on in her concurring opinion, writing, "It is beyond rational belief that HB 2 could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law 'would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions.'"</p> <p>Justice Alito wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas. "This is an abuse of our authority," Alito said in a summary of his dissent read from the bench. He gave a passionate speech about his concerns around the breadth of the court's decision, holding up a packet of all the ambulatory surgical center requirements and arguing that the court has now struck down every single one of them, even though some&mdash;the need for fire alarms, for example&mdash;are "innocuous" rather than burdensome. "The Court strikes down numerous provisions that could not plausibly impose an undue burden," he wrote in his dissent.</p></body></html> Politics Reproductive Rights Supreme Court Top Stories Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:58:24 +0000 Hannah Levintova 306421 at Supreme Court Says No to Guns for Domestic Batterers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Should domestic abusers who get convicted of minor domestic-violence charges get to keep their right to own guns just because their crimes were merely reckless, as opposed to premeditated? That's more or less the question the Supreme Court was considering in <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Voisine v. US</em></a>, a somewhat obscure case that was languishing on the court's docket as one of the last cases decided of the term. In a 6-2 opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan, the high court answered that question with a muted "no."</p> <p>The case challenges a 1996 amendment to the federal Gun Control Act, sponsored and named after the late New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), that barred people convicted of misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses from owning firearms. Violating the law carried a federal felony charge with a 10-year maximum sentence attached. The law was a triumph for women's advocates because it recognized that people guilty of domestic violence were rarely charged with felonies and banned from gun ownership, and that there was a documented relationship between domestic violence and gun homicides. The law was designed to keep guns out of the hands of those perps, even when they'd only been convicted of misdemeanors.</p> <p>Over the past 10 years, the gun lobby and some criminal defense groups have made a fairly concerted attack on the Lautenberg Amendment on various fronts to weaken its reach and try to return gun rights to batterers. <em>Voisine</em> is the third such case the court has heard since 2009. The latest defendants to take on the law are Stephen Vosine and William Armstrong III, neither of whom are model citizens. Voisine has a long track record of beating up his significant others. He pleaded guilty to assaulting his girlfriend in 2003, and was convicted again of assaulting a girlfriend in 2005.</p> <p>After receiving an anonymous tip, federal authorities discovered that Voisine had shot and killed a baby bald eagle. They confronted Voisine about the shooting and he turned over a rifle. During a background check, federal authorities discovered his 2003 domestic-assault conviction. In 2011, he was prosecuted both for killing an endangered bird and for illegally possessing a gun after his prior domestic-violence conviction. He pleaded guilty&mdash;but reserved his right to appeal&mdash;and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.</p> <p>His co-plaintiff, Armstrong, who is also from Maine, was convicted in 2002 and 2008 on a misdemeanor domestic-assault charges for beating his wife. Two years later, Maine police discovered six guns in his possession when they searched his house for marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was subsequently charged with illegal gun possession and sentenced to three years' probation.</p> <p>The lower courts have consistently upheld their convictions, but the Supreme Court vacated the sentences in 2014 and sent them back to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration, to ensure that the crimes for which Armstrong and Voisine had been prosecuted were misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses as defined by the federal law. States can choose how to define a crime, and in Maine, the state law defined a misdemeanor domestic-violence offense as one that included crimes committed in the heat of passion&mdash;i.e., reckless actions&mdash;as opposed to premeditated ones, which are considered more serious.</p> <p>In some cases, a reckless crime might not even result in a serious injury, but only "offensive touching." The federal law's definition of the required misdemeanor isn't exhaustive; it doesn't talk about a perpetrator's motivation for an assault in defining domestic-violence crimes. But the appellate court decided that Maine's definition of a "reckless assault" still met the requirements of the Lautenberg Amendment and could trigger the lifetime ban on gun ownership.</p> <p>The Supreme Court agreed. It weighed a host of different scenarios to try to narrow down the definition of "reckless," offering up various hypotheticals. A dissenting Justice Clarence Thomas boiled these down to "The Angry Plate Thrower" versus the "Soapy-Handed Husband," to illustrate the difference between the use of force in a situation when someone who throws a plate in anger near his wife, even if it doesn't hit her, and someone with soapy hands who "loses his grip on a plate, which then shatters and cuts his wife." The soapy handed husband could clearly keep his guns, while the plate thrower could not, according to the majority in the ruling against Voisine.</p> <p>Domestic-violence advocates had feared that a ruling for Voisine and Armstrong could reopen a loophole in the nation's gun laws that the Lautenberg Amendment was supposed to close. They provided some pretty chilling examples of the types of behavior that, if prosecuted, could have become exempt from triggering the gun ban if&nbsp; Voisine and Armstrong had prevailed. The National Domestic Violence Hotline i<a href="" target="_blank">ncluded in its brief </a>examples from women calling its hotline to illustrate how "reckless acts" that don't necessarily result in injury are usually part of a broader campaign to terrorize and control the victim. Among them were stories like these:</p> <p>"My abuser has played Russian Roulette with me before and has pulled the trigger."</p> <p>"[My] husband once threatened me with a gun when I once wanted to stay up to finish baking Christmas cookies. He is a control freak, so he didn't want someone to stay up if he was going to bed."</p> <p>"He shot a gun at my feet and someone called the police. [He] was arrested on violation of restraining order but gun charges were dropped."</p> <p>"[He] never fired the pistol, but he would sit on my chest and point it at my head. He would put it right next to my temple."</p> <p>In briefs in the case, women's advocates argued that Congress intended for people such as Voisine and Armstrong to lose their gun rights specifically because the justice system has been so bad at prosecuting batterers. Historically, prosecutors have downplayed domestic-violence crimes. Convictions were rare, and even serious assaults were&mdash;and often still are&mdash;pleaded down to misdemeanor charges. As a result, the misdemeanor convictions often obscured how potentially dangerous the defendant really was, especially if he got his hands on a gun. Their arguments were apparently persuasive.</p> <p>Only one group weighed in on the side of Voisine and Armstrong: Gun Owners of America, a gun rights group that believes the National Rifle Association is too liberal. Its lawyers, who filed an amicus brief in the case&mdash;the 10th such filing they've made in cases challenging the domestic-violence gun ban&mdash;argue a misdemeanor conviction isn't sufficient grounds to deprive an American citizen of the right to possess a gun. The gun owners found a sympathetic voice in Thomas, who used the case to offer his first questions from the bench in a decade during oral arguments in February.</p> <p>As <a href="" target="_blank">I wrote then:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The oral arguments in the case appeared to be wrapping up early. Ilana Eisenstein, the assistant solicitor general,&nbsp;said to the justices, "If there are no further questions," long before her time had run out. Then Thomas shocked the courtroom by asking her whether she could think of any other example where a misdemeanor criminal conviction could deprive an American citizen of a constitutional right for a lifetime&mdash;in this case the right to own a firearm, "which at least as of now is still a constitutional right," he quipped.</p> </blockquote> <p>The question Thomas raised prompted liberal Justice Stephen Breyer to chime in that his colleague might, in fact, have a point. They questioned whether, for instance, a publisher who'd done something wrong that resulted in a misdemeanor could lose his constitutional right to publish for life&nbsp; the way the gun owners in this case had been. Those questions might explain why the court took so long deciding what should probably have been an easy case given its precedent. In past cases, the Supreme Court hasn't been too sympathetic to such arguments, and it ruled against the plaintiffs in similar cases that reached the high court in 2009 and again in 2014. But Thomas managed to persuade an unlikely ally to join him at least in part in his dissent: liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor.</p> <p>In enacting the Lautenberg Amendment, Thomas writes, "Congress was not worried about a husband dropping a plate on his wife's foot&hellip;Congress was worried that family members were abusing other family members through acts of violence and keeping their guns by pleading down to misdemeanors." He argues that exempting people convicted of reckless batteries that did not include the intentional use of force&mdash;the husband who hits his wife with a plate because it slipped out of his soapy hands&mdash;would serve Congress' intended purpose, but instead, the majority had gone too far, and ensured that "a parent who has a car accident because he sent a text message while driving can lose his right to bear arms forever if his wife or child suffers the slightest injury from the crash." Sotomayor agreed with Thomas's analysis of the "Soapy-Handed Husband" dilemma but declined to sign on to his Second Amendment tirade in which he inveighed against the majority for agreeing to allow a single minor reckless assault to deprive a citizen of an enshrined constitutional right to own guns. "We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly," he concluded.</p></body></html> Politics Guns Supreme Court Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:51:02 +0000 Stephanie Mencimer 307621 at