Friday, December 29, 2023

Addressing Purported "Anti-Democratic" Concerns in Barring Trump From the Presidency

Maine has now joined with Colorado to deny former President Donald Trump access to the ballot in the 2024 presidential primary elections, likely affecting his ability to appear on the general election ballot in those two states, too, if he's named the GOP nominee.

This action is entirely justified, and more states, where they're able to do so, should take it. Trump engaged in an insurrection against the United States and the Constitution when, on January 6, 2021, he used incendiary rhetoric and encouraged a mob of his loyalists to go to the U.S. Capitol building, to protest in person the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to now-President Joe Biden — that action resulted in the violent breach of the building, threatening the lives of lawmakers inside.

For several hours after the attack, rather than encourage his mob to halt their actions or to order the National Guard to stop them, Trump reportedly watched the situation with glee, while also calling lawmakers in Congress and using the situation to try to convince them to agree to vote against certifying the Electoral College.

There can be no doubt that these actions violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. So, too, did the plot to use "fake" electors to disrupt the Electoral College, as the amendment states clearly that an insurrection against the Constitution, too, disqualifies former elected officials from being able to serve again.

But which entities decide who is an insurrectionist or not? And isn't forbidding Trump from being able to appear on the ballot anti-democratic? Let's address both of these questions, one at a time...

Deciding Who Is an Insurrectionist

The 14th Amendment doesn't explicitly state who gets to make the determination of who is an insurrectionist. Here's its full text (parts in bold done for emphasis):

No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

The amendment sets up how to define who is barred from holding office again:

  • A person who has engaged in insurrection against the Constitution, having previously held a position of governmental power and made an oath to that document;

  • And/or a person who has aided or comforted those who have.

It also provides a mechanism for allowing those who have engaged in such actions to have their restrictions removed — by a two-thirds vote of Congress. 

But the amendment doesn't explain how we determine who is an insurrectionist. It's important to look at history, then, to see how the amendment has been applied, but also to look at other parts of the Constitution to see how to do it as well.

The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the last amendment of the Bill of Rights — provides an answer to the ambiguity question. It states, as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Notably, no person who has ever been held accountable to the standards of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment needed to be convicted before being barred from running for office

Addressing the "Anti-Democratic" Concerns in Barring Trump From Running

Keeping Trump from running for president indeed takes away an option from voters to select whom they want to run. But the Constitution creates other conditions for the presidency, too, that are similarly "anti-democratic" — no person under the age of 35 can serve as president, for example, and no person not born in the United States can do so, either. 

In the early 2000s, amid his popularity as a governor of California, Republicans considered changing the Constitution to allow Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president. It didn't really go anywhere, but that's a clear example of how the Constitution is, in some ways, anti-democratic when it comes to who can run for president. Republicans in the mid-1800s, concerned that Confederates who formerly served as lawmakers in the U.S. Congress could run for office again, instituted Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. The language of that amendment made clear that it could be used again, beyond the immediate post-war years of the Civil War, if other lawmakers engaged in similar acts of rebellion or insurrection.

I bring up these two events to make this broader point: The question over whether barring Trump from running is anti-democratic, under Section 3's provisions, is the wrong way to examine the issue — rather, the question should be framed as to whether each individual candidate meets the constitutional criteria or conditions to run. If we look at it that way, any person who violates Section 3 of the 14th Amendment is disqualified. That's the bottom line.

That includes Trump, for the reasons outlined above.

One further point: barring a person who wants to end democratic norms from being able to run for office again is itself a protection of democracy, not an attack on it. Trump engaged in actions, in late 2020/early 2021, that would have disrespected our democratic process. He has promised to engage in anti-democratic actions again if he's elected in 2024. We should take him at his word, and see that promise as a sign that he's not a pro-democracy choice.

The Supreme Court Will Decide — and Create New Precedent

Ultimately, the issue will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump has promised to sue both Colorado and Maine over their officials' decisions to bar him from the ballot next year. That's his right to do so, though again, to me it seems pretty straightforward that 1) he engaged in insurrectionist behavior in violation of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and 2) the states have the right to determine on their own how to apply qualification standards for presidential candidates.

It is perhaps wrong for a single state official to be entrusted with that power, which is what's happening in Maine specifically. But that state determined for itself that that person should have those powers. Until Maine changes that, or Congress passes stricter standards for how states make these kinds of determinations, the only remedy to overrule states that empower just one official to decide these things is the courts — and that's precisely what's happening.

Put another way, the process is playing out exactly how it should be. 

Given the conservative makeup of the current Supreme Court, it's unlikely those two states' actions will be upheld, which is unfortunate, in my view. Trump, again, clearly is an insurrectionist — and without the mechanisms in place for determining who is or isn't an insurrectionist, the states rightly asserted their powers, through the 10th Amendment, to do so on their own. 

Overturning that standard, without putting in place a new one through judicial review, would be a mistake, too. If the Supreme Court says Trump shouldn't be barred from running, but doesn't say how someone like him could be barred in the future, we're left in limbo until Congress passes a new law. That's a very dangerous place to leave us in — and it allows anti-democratic insurrectionists like Trump to remain options for president, in spite of clearly needing to be disqualified from running under the plain reading of Section 3.

Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr
CC BY SA 2.0, with alterations

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Why It's Important to Talk About Trump's "ROT IN HELL" Christmas Message

I've been working as a professional journalist for quite a few years now, so I feel I can say with some authenticity that a peculiar thing happens this time of year: the news "slows down." That isn't to say that newsworthy stories aren't happening, but rather that there are fewer printings of these stories, or less attention given to them, than in other parts of the year.

This is due to several reasons, including the fact that many journalists (like other workers) take off time during this part of the year. There is also less demand for the types of stories that are more popular at other times of the year, particularly political stories, which I believe happens because we have a desire to be less political overall when we're with family or loved ones during the holidays.

So when a presidential candidate, indeed the likely nominee for the Republican Party in the 2024 election, delivers a Christmas message in which he tells his political opponents to "rot in hell," it might go unnoticed.

That's exactly what Donald Trump did over the weekend.

On Christmas Day, Trump wrote on his fledgling Truth Social site, "Merry Christmas to all, including Crooked Joe Biden’s ONLY HOPE, Deranged Jack Smith," adding that the special counsel charged with overseeing Trump's federal investigations is an "out of control Lunatic" and engaged in a "poorly executed WITCH HUNT against 'TRUMP' and 'MAGA.'"

Trump went on, writing that his Christmas "wishes" went out also to:

Included also are World Leaders, both good and bad, but none of which are as evil and “sick” as the THUGS we have inside our Country who, with their Open Borders, INFLATION, Afghanistan Surrender, Green New Scam, High Taxes, No Energy Independence, Woke Military, Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Iran, All Electric Car Lunacy, and so much more, are looking to destroy our once great USA.
"MAY THEY ROT IN HELL," Trump added in all caps. "AGAIN, MERRY CHRISTMAS!"

It's very dangerous to ignore this rhetoric, to normalize it as a person's regular outburst, because the action itself is irregular and should be rejected outright. We wouldn't let our family members talk like this at Christmas dinner, and we certainly shouldn't encourage or celebrate political leaders who do it, either. It should, simply put, be disqualifying in the minds of voters.

But mostly, it should be talked about at great lengths because the demonization of the political "other" in American society is causing huge and lasting rifts, resulting in violence and talk of "national divorce" from the right that would, if followed through, result in the denial of long-recognized human rights that generations of Americans have fought for.

Donald Trump is a straight-up fascist who speaks like Hitler and will enact draconian measures if given the chance to. We know this because he's told us so. We should believe him.

One final thought on this: Anyone who uses the birth of Christ to issue a message of hate is clearly trying to weaponize religion in order to achieve his own fascist-nationalistic ends. With just 11 months until the presidential election, it's far past time we start talking about this more regularly.

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Ron Johnson Says Dems Did Fake Electors, Too, Then Fails to Give Single Example

Ron Johnson, appearing on CNN this week, falsely claimed that Democrats "repeatedly" used fake electors, just like Republicans did in 2020, in previous presidential elections.

Just don't ask him any follow-up questions on his assertion, because he's got nothing.

Like so many internet trolls do, Johnson, when asked by CNN's Kaitlan Collins to provide evidence of his claim, told her to do her own research. Which, of course, isn't how real discourse works — if you make a claim within a debate, you have to be able to back it up.

Ron Johnson doesn't abide by these rules. He merely makes a claim, and if you don't believe him, well, that's YOUR fault, I guess?

Johnson stated that the 10 fake electors in Wisconsin — who recently admitted their actions were being used to further a scheme to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential race to help Donald Trump — "did nothing different than what many Democrats have done in many states."

When asked by Kaitlan Collins to provide a single example of Democrats doing what they had done, Johnson couldn't do so — "check the books," he said, without naming one instance.


It goes without saying, but it's worth saying it again: Johnson is flat-out wrong, because Democrats have not, in the past, put forward slates of fake electors, nor tried to pass them off to the counters of the Electoral College to be included among legit votes, in order to help a loser in a presidential election to "win."

Johnson's office, as you may recall, helped in that scheme, or at least attempted to. The senator from Wisconsin even faked a phone call in the summer of 2022 when reporters found out about this, and confronted him to answer questions on it. 

  Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Monday, September 25, 2023

"Speech Rights" Defense Shouldn't Protect Trump From Insurrection Clause Claims

Lawyers for Donald Trump are arguing that he's protected from attempts to have him disqualified for the presidency.

The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for the barring of a current or former lawmaker who formerly took an oath to the Constitution and "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the U.S., or otherwise gave aid to those who did (that last bit is important). 

Some residents of various states -- including Colorado -- are suing to have Trump blocked from appearing on primary and/or general election ballots next year, due to what happened in his name on January 6, 2021, when the U.S. Capitol was attacked by loyalists to the former POTUS after he riled them up and ordered them to voice their discontent to lawmakers in person.

According to reporting from the Associated Press, Trump's lawyers in Colorado are readying to use a First Amendment speech rights defense to say he should not be disqualified.

From the AP:
Attorneys for former President Donald Trump argue that an attempt to bar him from the 2024 ballot under a rarely used “insurrection” clause of the Constitution should be dismissed as a violation of his freedom of speech.


Trump also will argue that the clause doesn’t apply to him because “the Fourteenth Amendment applies to one who ‘engaged in insurrection or rebellion,’ not one who only ‘instigated’ any action,” [Trump attorney Geoffrey] Blue wrote.
On its face, this might appear to be a reasoned argument -- Trump wasn't at the Capitol taking part in the attack, so he shouldn't be called an insurrectionist. Except: the 14th Amendment does not require someone to have been directly involved in the action to be subjected to the law.

As I already pointed out, a person who provides AID to an insurrection is also barred from running for future office under the constitutional provision. Their helping of the insurrection is considered just as bad as the act of the insurrection itself.

Trump's actions -- including his inaction on January 6 -- indicate that he aided those attacking the Capitol. He encouraged them to go there in the first place, and when the mob became violent, he waited for several hours before saying they should go home. 

Witnesses in the White House say he even watched the attack happen on television with glee as it was happening, and that he refused to call out the National Guard.

Passiveness during an insurrection may not hold up in court in most cases, when it comes to this constitutional rule. But when it comes to the president of the United States, especially one who BENEFITS from the mob's actions and takes ZERO action in trying to quell the violence, the passiveness is itself aiding the insurrection.

In short, by doing nothing for several hours while Congress was under attack, Trump was aiding and abetting the insurrection that was happening on his behalf. It doesn't matter whether he was actively a part of it or not -- his inaction that day, in violation of his presidential duties, aided the mob's goals.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Friday, September 15, 2023

Vos Hopes to Fool Wisconsinites With Deceptive "Nonpartisan" Redistricting Bill

Serious checks and balances have been stripped from the redistricting plan offered up by Wisconsin Republicans this week

What more can be said about the redistricting plan offered by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) that hasn't already been said? Well, here's my two cents for you anyway...

When Vos surprisingly announced he now supported enacting a nonpartisan redistricting plan to combat gerrymandering, Democrats were skeptical — this guy and his allies in the state legislature, after all, are firing elections officials over false claims of election fraud and threatening to impeach a duly-elected Supreme Court justices over ideological disagreements. 

Heck, years, prior, Vos and other Republicans even described the plan he's now touting as unconstitutional, a wrong assessment, to be sure, but noteworthy given his sudden embracing of it.

So what changed? The details of the bill (which passed the state legislature on Thursday night and will likely be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers) essentially make it so that nothing changes at all: Vos & Co. can still draw whatever maps they want, so long as they perform a song and dance before they do so.

Despite claiming otherwise, the plan he's offering isn't a replica of a previous plan by Democrats from 2019 that included a number of failsafes against abuse, but rather a plan that looks like it WITHOUT checks and balances to prevent partisan gerrymandering from happening anyway.

Screenshot from Republican Accountability Project (edited)

According to the nonpartisan analysis of the Vos bill, if enacted, a redistricting commission will be created, but if the state legislature doesn't like the maps they draft, they can simply vote twice against them, and then the regular amendment process — without oversight from the commission — will allow legislators to just draw their own maps anyway, with a simple majority vote.

Given that Republicans have already gerrymandered their way to a nearly two-thirds majority in the legislature, it won't be difficult for them to keep passing THEIR maps, decade after decade, to keep control and deny Wisconsinites true representation.

Oh, and the entire process would be exempt from judicial oversight, meaning there would be no recourse for action if Republicans still try to play fast and loose with the process, as they have already demonstrated a propensity for doing. That's fun.

So now, right-wing lawmakers and their allies (this tweet from a far-right troll account was retweeted by Vos) are pooh-poohing Democrats for opposing the plan, wrongly saying they're flip-flopping on the issue. In short, Republicans in the state are hoping we the People are too stupid to realize that their nonpartisan redistricting plan is actually a wolf in sheep's clothing, a continuation of the broken process that is already in place.

Vos's plan will still allow him and Republicans to gerrymander the crap out of our state. And that's the real reason why Vos "changed his mind" on the plan he once opposed — because he gutted it enough to ensure the status quo would not be disturbed. He, in effect, did not change his mind at all.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Trump Whines on Social Media About 14th Amendment Effort to Bar Him From Office

Donald Trump is ranting on his Truth Social site (quick sidebar: how long will that be around for?) against the idea that he could possibly be denied the chance to run for office again under the terms of the 14th Amendment.

Section 3 of that amendment reads as follows:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
To put it in shorter terms, if someone engages in an act of insurrection, or gives aid to others that do, they cannot run for office again, if they've previously taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution before. Only through a two-thirds vote of Congress can that limitation be removed.

Trump whined about the push to have this amendment apply to him.

"Almost all legal scholars have voiced opinions that the 14th Amendment has no legal basis or standing relative to the upcoming 2024 Presidential Election," Trump said, likening it to a "trick" that "the Radical Left Communists, Marxists, and Fascists" were using against him to "steal" the upcoming election.

Almost nothing Trump says can ever be trusted — the former president lied tens of thousands of times during his presidency, as documented by The Washington Post, and he continues to do so today. But it's still worth dissecting this post from him.

1.) The attack on the U.S. Capitol was an insurrection. There's no question about this — the goal of the attackers was to disrupt and stop the counting of the Electoral College, in order to (unlawfully) keep Trump as president. 

2.) While not in total agreement, a growing number of legal scholars, state and federal officials, former judges and nonpartisan government watchdog groups have stated, quite definitively, that Trump is disqualified from running for office under the 14th Amendment. There's no poll that shows MOST think this way, but that can be looked at both ways — there's also no poll that shows "ALMOST ALL" legal scholars agree with Trump, either. His statement on Truth Social is his opinion, and has (SURPRISE!) no basis in fact

But truthfully, there shouldn't be any debate over whether Trump a) was responsible for the Capitol attack, and b) should be barred from office under the terms of the 14th Amendment. Trump riled up his mob of loyalists, telling them that the election was stolen from them, then directed them to express their ire in person at the U.S. Capitol building. Were it not for Trump inviting them to D.C. that day, and telling them in person to go to Congress, it's doubtful the attack would ever have happened.

Even though he used the word "peacefully" once in his lengthy speech preceding the attack (which isn't actually a proper defense for what happened), it's clear he was happy with its results — he reportedly watched it unfold live on TV at the White House, and refused to call off his supporters until several hours later (an important piece of the puzzle in its own right, as this inaction on his part definitely aided the attack).

Trump should be barred from running for office. The country would be better off for it.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Putin Was Taken Aback at How Fit Biden Was During Their Last Meeting — Book

There will be ample debate over the age and physical/mental well-being of President Joe Biden in the coming months, up to Election Day 2024. With three-quarters of Americans viewing Biden as "too old" to lead, the issue is one he'll have to eventually confront.

But at least one world leader believes Biden is more fit than the media (particularly on the right) makes him out to be: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

From Business Insider:
The Russian press had spent months portraying Biden as a fragile old man, a piece of spin that Putin had internalized. But when he greeted Biden, he seemed taken aback by his appearance. 'You look good,' he exclaimed," journalist Franklin Foer wrote in The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future, which was published on Tuesday. 
Putin, Foer wrote, was so struck by the fact that Scranton Joe wasn't scrawny that he had to tell then-outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel about it.
Not that the opinions of a brutalistic authoritarian leader matter or anything. In fact, in most cases, their opinions should be dismissed as only serving their own selfish interests. 

But this is an interesting thing to take note of, strictly from the "Biden is too old/weak to lead" argument that is constantly emanating from the far right (which has taken a strong liking to Putin, under Trump's direction, in recent years). 

Age ultimately doesn't matter, in the grand scheme of things, so long as the president makes the right choices and isn't disrupted from being able to serve on account of how old they are. Whether that's true for Biden or not will be up for voters to decide.

However, the 2024 presidential election will be about more than that, and will primarily focus on who Americans see as a better potential leader overall. Since it will likely come down to picking between Biden or Trump, on that measure, the person most likely to keep our democratic institutions intact — preventing the other person, who actually admires the authoritarian Putin, from taking office — is the better choice.

Russia Presidential Press and Information Office/Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0)

Monday, September 4, 2023

Biden Touts Strong Economy in Labor Day Statement, but Most Voters Aren't Getting the Message

In a Labor Day message to Americans on Monday, President Joe Biden touted strong jobs growth and a good economy, stating that "Bidenomics is a blue-collar blueprint for America."

Speaking to a union crowd at a parade hosted by the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, Biden added:
My plan for the country is to make the economy work for people like you, because when it works for people like you, it works for everybody
The message is likely one that Biden and his re-election team are going to try to repeat over and over again this coming year, as most Americans don't seem to be feeling the positive effects of "Bidenomics" or aren't personally aware of them yet.

Polling from a recent Economist/YouGov survey finds that only 19 percent of Americans think the economy is "getting better," while 54 percent say it's "getting worse." Among independents, 62 percent say things have gone in the wrong direction.

Biden's approval rating among voters on the issue is low, too: 51 percent disapprove of his performance when it comes to jobs and the economy, while 41 percent say they approve.

By many economists' standards, the economy has improved under Biden's watch. But whether or not Americans feel that improvement, in their own lives, is another story altogether. If Biden hopes to win re-election and fend off second Donald Trump presidency, he'll have to explain to and convince those voters that they're better off now than they were before.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Dozens of White Nationalist, Neo-Nazi Flyers Found in Milwaukee Suburb

White nationalism reared its ugly head in a Milwaukee suburb this Labor Day weekend.

Dozens of flyers depicting white supremacist talking points and Nazi imagery were discovered in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, a community just a few minutes north of the city. The flyers urged residents to join a known neo-Nazi organization using hateful and bigoted language.

[P]olice recovered more than 70 illegally distributed flyers containing hate speech.


The flyer, on one side, reads "Who is working in the interest of white Americans?" The other side links to a website promoting white supremacy, displaying videos with Nazi imagery — using racist and antisemitic language.
The flyers stated they were "distributed randomly without malicious intent," and referenced the "Aryan Freedom Network," a group recognized by the ADL as a neo-Nazi organization that began in Texas but is spreading across the country.

In a statement posted on Facebook on Sunday, Village President Kevin Buckley decried the flyers, saying:
I am saddened that our community was targeted by individuals seeking attention for their hateful ideology. The Village of Whitefish Bay is committed to continuing to make Whitefish Bay an inclusive, accepting village, where all are welcomed. While the materials did not include any explicit threats, we are taking this incident seriously and the Police Department will work to enhance safety throughout the community.
Image via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Veto by Tony Evers Increases Ability of School Districts to Raise Funds Through 2425

 Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wisconsin) has signed a GOP-passed budget, but with more than four dozen line-item vetoes. Among those items, Evers crossed off a hyphen and a number "0" to give schools in the state the ability to increase funding now through the year 2425.

From Wisconsin Public Radio:

Schools will get an additional $325 per student in each of the next two fiscal years under the budget approved by Republicans. In a surprise move, Evers used his line-item veto to continue the annual increase for over the next 400 years. 

And from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

It's the second time Evers, a former state superintendent and public school educator, has used his partial veto authority to increase funding for public schools. 

Said Evers in his veto message:

I object to the failure of the Legislature to address the long-term financial needs of school districts. This veto makes no changes to the per pupil revenue limit adjustment provided in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years and provides school districts with predictable long-term spending authority increases.

Districts were limited in how much they could increase funding for schools each year, under a Scott Walker-era rule. Now, however, they can raise funding to a much greater degree, giving local governments more power to decide for themselves -- without state-imposed restrictions -- what's best for them.

Featured image credit: Tony Evers/Flickr

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Pence Makes Incomprehensible Comparison Between Gender-Affirming Care and Tattoos

During his CNN town hall event (seriously, we're doing more of these??), former VP Mike Pence, who announced he's running for president this week, denounced the idea of kids being able to get gender-affirming care -- even if their parents and physicians are OK with it/say they should do so.

Gender-affirming care is a wide range of health care. It can be psychology; it can be puberty blockers; it can be hormone therapy. Some states are taking action to block these types of care for transgender kids, even though cisgender teens use them frequently, too.

From HuffPost:

The former vice president told moderator Dana Bash that although he supported restoring parents’ rights in schools and ending “politically correct nonsense,” he didn’t believe a parent should be able to decide if their child should be allowed to transition or seek medical care for gender dysphoria.

“I strongly support state legislation that bans all gender transition, chemical or surgical procedures, for kids under the age of 18,” Pence said. “I’m talking as a father and I’m talking as a grandfather right now. There’s a reason you don’t let kids get a tattoo before they’re 18.”

Pence makes a weird comparison here because, well, kids in 38 states across the country RIGHT NOW can get friggin' tattoos with their parents' permission.

Oh, and just so this is out there: while only a few hundred trans teens are actually getting the kinds of surgeries Pence alludes to annually, more than 3,000 cis girls are getting breast implants each year, with their parents' permission. But for some reason, the far right is fine with that. Hmm.

But put that aside. Pence says he's all for parental rights. Except, he's not, because he's just for SOME parents' rights, it seems. You know, when it comes to parents saying they don't want books with Black history in them, or that feature LGBTQ characters, that kind of stuff.

But respecting a parent's right to decide, with their health care provider's help, that their trans children need such care? That's too far, according to the Christian nationalist.

From LGBTQ Nation:

Host Dana Bash pushed back: “I just want to be clear on this because you are so adamant about parents’ rights.”

“Right, I am,” Pence responded.

“But in this particular case, parents who say, along with the doctors, that what is best for their kids, what their kids feel most comfortable with doing, is gender transition,” Bash said. “The parents should not be allowed to do that?”

Pence did not appear to have a response ready for this fairly obvious question.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Even a Trump-Appointed Federal Judge Gets It: Drag Bans Are Wrong (and Unconstitutional)

A federal judge -- one appointed by former President Donald Trump, no less -- has ruled that the state's ban on drag show performances is unconstitutional.

From The Associated Press:

The law is both “unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad” and encouraged “discriminatory enforcement,” according to the ruling late Friday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

“There is no question that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment. But there is a difference between material that is ‘obscene’ in the vernacular, and material that is ‘obscene’ under the law,” Parker said.

“Simply put, no majority of the Supreme Court has held that sexually explicit — but not obscene — speech receives less protection than political, artistic, or scientific speech,” he said. 

Similar to other bans happening in conservative parts of the country, the Tennessee law banned "adult cabaret performances" at properties where minors might be present. 

Many drag shows, while they may be suggestive, are not overtly sexual. Parents often bring children to these entertaining performances, which is their right to decide on doing, just as it is other parents' rights to bring their kids to restaurants with scantily-clad servers, many have pointed out. Using another analogy, it's no different than a parent bringing their kid to an R-rated movie (indeed, many drag performances are tamer than that).

This ruling (read it in full here) is probably just the start: as other states and local governments enact unnecessary and bigoted drag bans, more lawsuits are likely to happen, too, finding that these laws violate performers' First Amendment rights.

Notably, although there is a distinction between trans people and drag queens, these bans also target transgender people in deeply negative and concerning ways, affecting their speech rights, too. A Native American Two-Spirit author was banned by her county government from giving a talk at a Montana library last week because of a drag ban, for example. She, too, is contemplating a lawsuit.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Legal Experts Pen 180-Page Memo Outlining Trump Prosecution Over Classified Docs Found at Mar-a-Lago

Just Security -- which bills itself as "an online forum for the rigorous analysis of security, democracy, foreign policy, and rights" -- has released what it's calling a "model prosecution memo" that details the case, so far, for prosecuting Donald Trump over his retention of classified documents.

Some quick facts, to remind you of how we got here:

  • The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) tried for almost a year after Trump left the WH to get these docs back. At the time, during that year, it didn't know what kind of documents Trump had, only that they were government docs, which belong to the American people, not a former president. Only after the agency threatened to involve Congress in the matter did Trump and his lawyers relent, and allow NARA to collect SOME documents in early 2022.

  • After doing so, NARA noticed that some of the docs they got back had classified markings. They alerted the Department of Justice (DOJ), which later prompted the department to question Trump's lawyers further until it was determined they needed to issue a subpoena to get the remaining docs back. The subpoena was served in May of 2022, and served out in June of that year. Trump was purportedly cooperative during that subpoena, but as we find out later, he might have been trying to hide documents, too, which could render a charge of obstruction.

  • After the DOJ carried out its subpoena and retrieved what Trump and his lawyers said were all of the remaining classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, more evidence surfaced that Trump had lied to them. We know from reports, for example, that Trump had his workers move documents both prior to and after the DOJ subpoena was carried out (including on the day before officials came to Mar-a-Lago to get them). Trump was clearly not trustworthy in surrendering these documents willfully, so the FBI obtained a search warrant and retrieved them, without Trump's consent or knowledge ahead of time, in August.

  • In total, more than 300 classified documents were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago from the first retrieval in January 2022 to August 2022. A few more documents were also retrieved from a storage locker not at Mar-a-Lago later that year.

Trump has not tried to hide the fact that he had these docs in his possession. In fact, he has said that what he did was perfectly legal, suggesting that he declassified the documents automatically just by thinking about doing it on his last day as president when he removed them from the White House.

That's...not how things work, at all. There's a process for declassifying documents. And even if that IS how things COULD happen, the declassified docs would still belong to the government, not to Trump.

Anyway, back to the memo...

Just Security, in publishing its memo detailing how the DOJ could prosecute Trump, TODAY, is basing its opinion on just what's been made public knowledge, through court filings and media reports about the matter. In other words, this memo says Trump can and should be prosecuted without even knowing the things the DOJ knows that hasn't been made public yet.

No doubt, there is more information that DOJ has paints Trump in an even darker light.

From Just Security:

There is sufficient evidence to obtain and sustain a conviction here, if the information gleaned from government filings and statements and voluminous public reporting is accurate. Indeed, the DOJ is likely now, or shortly will be, internally circulating a pros memo of its own saying so.

But since the DOJ memo will likely be "highly confidential," it will probably not be made public, Just Security noted. So, the site produced their own memo, to give the public some insight into what the DOJ might be saying in their prosecutorial documents, if they're drafting them.

"Given the gravity of the issues here, our memo provides a sense of how prosecutors will assemble and evaluate the considerations that they must assess before making a prosecution decision," the website says.

The memo is extensive: if you make the time to read it, buckle in, because it's 180 pages long. The authors of the report include a number of university law professors and former federal prosecutors (some of them are both!), as well as other legal minds.

But to put it short, Just Security makes the case for prosecuting Trump based on six criteria, separated into two sections, which read:

Mishandling of Government Documents

1. Retention of National Defense Information (18 U.S.C. § 793(e))

2. Concealing Government Records (18 U.S.C. § 2071)

3. Conversion of Government Property (18 U.S.C. § 641)

Obstruction, Contempt, False Information

1. Obstruction of Justice (18 U.S.C. § 1519)

2. Criminal Contempt (18 U.S.C. § 402)

3. False Statements to Federal Investigators (18 U.S.C. § 1001)

Read more at Just Security