Supremes set to tackle abortion, immigration, LGBT rights

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Abortion rights as well as protections for young immigrants and LGBT people top an election-year agenda for the Supreme Court. Its conservative majority will have ample opportunity to flex its muscle, testing Chief Justice John Roberts’ attempts to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics.

Guns could be part of a term with plenty of high-profile cases and at least the prospect of the court’s involvement in issues revolving around the possible impeachment of President Donald Trump and related disputes between the White House and congressional Democrats.

The court also could be front and center in the presidential campaign itself, especially with health concerns surrounding 86-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Its biggest decisions are likely to be handed down in late June, four months before the election.

If last year was a time for the court to maintain a collective low profile following Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s stormy confirmation, the new term marks a return to the spotlight.

“The court seemed to do everything it could to rise above the partisan rancor,” said David Cole, the national legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union. “This term, it’s going to be harder for the court.”

How far the court is willing to go in any case that is likely to divide the liberal and conservative justices probably will come down to Roberts. He is essentially the court’s new swing justice, a conservative who is closest to the court’s center. He also has spoken repeatedly against the perception that the court is a political branch of government, much like Congress and the White House.

Last term, on the same day in late June, Roberts joined the conservatives in ending federal court challenges to partisan electoral maps and sided with the liberals to block the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The new term might pose the sternest test yet of Roberts’ stewardship of the court. Roberts also would preside over any Senate trial of Trump, if the House impeaches the president.

The justices return to the bench Monday with cases about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants and allow non-unanimous juries to convict defendants of some crimes.

The next day, they will take up two cases about whether federal civil rights law protects LGBT people from workplace discrimination. They are the first rights cases since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the fifth vote for and wrote the court’s major gay rights decisions.

With Kavanaugh in Kennedy’s place and Trump’s other appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, also on the bench, the outcome is far from certain. The Trump administration also has reversed the Obama administration’s view that LGBT people are covered by the Title 7 provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex.

“It would be huge for the LGBT community to have protection in the private sector from employment discrimination,” said Paul Smith, a veteran Supreme Court litigator who has argued past gay rights cases.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would remove any doubt about Title 7′s application in cases of sexual orientation and gender identity, but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

In November, the justices will hear arguments over the Trump administration’s plan to end the Obama-era program that has protected roughly 700,000 young immigrants from deportation and provided them with permits to work in the United States legally.

Lower courts have so far blocked the administration from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

As in the LGBT rights cases, the court fight over DACA could be made irrelevant by congressional action authorizing the program. But Congress seems unlikely to do anything before the court rules.

The abortion case probably will be argued during the winter and is another test of whether the change in the court’s composition will result in a different outcome. The Louisiana law that forces abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is virtually the same as a Texas law the court struck down in 2016, when Kennedy joined the liberal justices to form a majority.

Roberts dissented in 2016, but he voted with the liberals in February to block the Louisiana law, at least temporarily. It was a rare vote against an abortion restriction that could point up the tension between Roberts’ legal views on abortion and his institutional interests in upholding even prior decisions with which he disagrees.

Apart from its lineup of big cases, the court itself could be an issue in the unfolding presidential campaign. Some Democrats and liberals are talking about structural changes to increase the size of the court or limit the terms of future justices.

The 2016 campaign played out amid a Supreme Court vacancy following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. While Senate Republicans blocked any consideration of President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, Trump released a list of potential nominees and about one-quarter of Trump voters said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in their vote for him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said Republicans would confirm a Trump nominee to the Supreme Court, even if a vacancy arose during 2020.

Election-year retirements are very unusual, and the two oldest justices, Ginsburg and 81-year-old Stephen Breyer, would not want to give Trump a third high court seat to fill. Both were appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

But Ginsburg has had two bouts with cancer in less than a year, including radiation treatment in August for a tumor on her pancreas. She has kept up a steady stream of public appearances to signal that she is still here. The events, she said, energize her. “When I am active, I am much better than when I am just lying about feeling sorry for myself,” she said at an appearance in New York.

She’s hardly alone on the lecture circuit. Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Gorsuch have been out trying to drum up sales for their new books. Even the newest justice, Kavanaugh, will raise his profile somewhat. He is scheduled to be the principal speaker at the Federalist Society’s November dinner in front of more than 2,000 people.

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Biden sounds like the front runner…until he doesn’t

Former Vice President Joe Biden responds to a question Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC at Texas Southern University in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Joe Biden is the Democratic front-runner. And there were moments in Thursday night’s debate when he looked the part.

Standing between a pair of liberal senators offering radical change, he unabashedly embraced his more moderate position on health care, forcefully pressuring Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to level with Americans about the steep cost of implementing a fully government-run system. He was more polished and practiced than in previous contests. And he repeatedly leaned on the legacy of former President Barack Obama, who remains the most popular Democrat in the nation.

“I’m for Barack — I think the Obamacare worked,” he declared.

But the debate was punctuated by moments that highlighted why Biden can’t shake questions about his consistency and whispers about his fitness for office, despite his lead in most national polls and early state surveys. Most glaringly: a meandering answer near the end of the debate about his past statements on racial inequality. Biden said poor parents should play the “record player” for their children before veering off into comments about Venezuela.

Biden’s standing in the Democratic contest is the source of much debate within the party. Is he an experienced elder statesman who can calm an anxious nation and peel back some of the white working class voters who helped send President Donald Trump to the White House? Or is the 76-year-old past his prime and out of step with a party that is growing younger, more diverse and more liberal?

Thursday night’s contest provided fresh fodder for each of those theories.

Biden was at his best in his lengthy exchange with Sanders and Warren over the future of health care in America. He confidently pressed them over the cost of their sweeping “Medicare for All” proposals, exposing Warren’s unwillingness to say whether middle class Americans would see a tax increase under her plan (Sanders says they would, but argues the rise would be offset by lower health care costs).

In a retort to Sanders, who has said he expects employers would pass on health care savings to their workers, Biden exclaimed: “For a socialist you’ve got a lot more confidence in corporate America than I do.”

Biden was the focus of fierce criticism from his rivals in both of the previous Democratic debates. But those attacks did little to diminish Biden’s standing atop polls, nor has a series of verbal flubs and misstatements throughout the summer.

The other reality: The candidates who have launched the sharpest attacks on Biden have gained little ground or already dropped out of the race. Sen. Kamala Harris, for example, bested Biden in the opening debate with a highly personal critique over his decades-old position on federally mandated school busing, but any boost for her candidacy was short-lived.

Perhaps mindful of that reality, most candidates sidestepped overt criticism of the vice president in Thursday’s debate.

The one notable exception was Julián Castro, who served as Obama’s housing secretary and is in need of a jolt to break out of the lower tier of candidates. In a highly charged moment, Castro challenged Biden’s memory — a barely veiled reference to questions about the former vice president’s age.

“Are you forgetting already what you just said two minutes ago?” Castro said during an exchange on health care.

In a post-debate interview, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker laid into Biden as well, saying there were many people concerned about Biden’s ability to carry the ball “across the end line without fumbling.”

Castro and Booker were zeroing in on real questions that are being asked about Biden. Is he too old to serve as president? If he were the nominee, would he make a mistake at a critical moment that could clear the way for Trump?

Biden’s stumbles later in the debate magnified those questions. He struggled through an answer about the war in Iraq and gave a grab-bag answer to a question about how to repair the legacy of slavery in America. He appeared to suggest that poorer families needed help learning how to raise their children.

Biden’s supporters argue that ultimately, those answers — and the questions they raise — matter less to voters than their overall impressions of the former vice president. Indeed, there is a deep reservoir of goodwill for Biden in the Democratic Party, shaped in large part by the eight years he served as Obama’s No. 2.

Which leaves little doubt as to why Biden spent much of the debate reminding Americans about those years, urging them to see him as the rightful heir to legacy of the last Democrat to occupy the Oval Office.

“I stand with Barack Obama all eight years — good, bad, indifferent,” Biden said.

___

Editor’s note: Washington bureau chief Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Democratic libs aren’t backing down

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Days after tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boiled over publicly, several House Democrats sent a message to Washington: We’re not backing down.

Three members of the “squad” — the cadre of liberal freshman lawmakers who are struggling with their party’s more centrist members over impeachment, immigration and other issues — defended their approach Saturday while appearing on a panel at the annual Netroots conference. All are young women of color, a fact not lost on supporters who have bridled at the criticism thrown their way.

“We never need to ask for permission or wait for an invitation to lead,” Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said when asked what she would say to women of color who are frustrated or hurt by comments that seek to minimize their impact or vilify them. She said later that there’s a “constant struggle oftentimes with people who have power about sharing that power.”

Omar added: “We are not really in the business of asking for the share of that power. We’re in the business of trying to grab that power and return it to the people.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., on the Netroots panel. The “squad” member with the highest profile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did not attend.

“I think you have to be unapologetically you,” Tlaib said. “Sometimes that means — I know for me and a number of my sisters, we represent our districts and we focus on the things that matter in our districts and to bring them into this space. And that does sometimes — that does mean I have to vote no on detaining children at the border.”

Infighting between liberal and centrist House Democrats was highlighted last week by Pelosi’s seemingly dismissive words aimed at the freshman women. Pelosi told The New York Times that “they’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got,” a remark that brought criticism that Pelosi was marginalizing women of color.

“The women of color who have entered Congress, they’re more than four votes,” said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People and the panel’s moderator. “For millions of us, these women of color in Congress represent generations of blood, sweat and tears and struggle.”

Pelosi has cast the sniping among House Democrats as a threat to achieving common goals, one of them to defeat Trump’s bid for reelection. Ocasio-Cortez has complained about the consolidation of power in Congress and wants Democrats to be bold about their priorities.

Pressley quoted the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s feminist mantra in saying that rather than bringing her own chair to the proverbial table, “this is the time to shake the table, this is the time to redefine that table.” Chisholm was a pioneering African American who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

“Moving forward, I’m just appealing to all of you to recognize that our destinies and our freedoms are tied. Please do not feed any scarcity mindset,” Pressley said. “Now is not the time to be territorial about oppression and trauma. Because this is a coordinated systemic attack and we are all losing.”

Asked whether she still believes Trump must be impeached, Tlaib reprised her controversial statement — minus the overt profanity — made just hours after she was sworn into office last January.

“We’re going to impeach the MF-er,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

Adding to the Democratic discord was a tweet Friday from the House Democratic Caucus criticizing Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, after he tweeted criticism of Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat and Native American. “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” the House Democrats’ tweet read in part.

A group of progressive organizations issued a statement Saturday saying they were concerned that senior Democratic Party leaders and their aides “have been escalating attacks on new leaders in the party who have been rightfully advocating a stronger approach to holding the Trump administration accountable to human rights abuses being committed on the border and against immigrants.”

“With ICE raids occurring this weekend, deaths of children at the border camps, and a continued blank check for the administration’s racist deportation machine, we will be focusing on the real crisis at hand and we urge Democratic leadership to do so as well,” the statement said. “Democratic leaders must fight to close the camps and hold ICE and CBP accountable.”

__________________________________________________________
Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Yegads! NSA abuses unite liberals and tea party

The NSA: It is, therefore it spies on everyone.
The NSA: It is, therefore it spies on everyone.

Hoyt Sparks says he has no use for liberal Democrats and their “socialistic, Marxist, communist” ways.

Toni Lewis suspects tea party Republicans are “a bunch of people who probably need some mental health treatment.”

Politically speaking, the tea-party supporter in rural North Carolina and the Massachusetts liberal live a world apart.

Who or what could get them thinking the same?

Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency.

By exposing the NSA’s vast surveillance web, Snowden created a link between tea partyers and liberals — two tribes camped on opposite sides of the nation’s political chasm.

These people to the right and left of mainstream America sound a lot alike now.

Sparks, a federal retiree in the Blue Ridge mountain town of Sparta and a political independent, condemns the NSA programs as “a breach of privacy which violates the Constitution.”

Lifetime Democrat Lewis, a social worker in the city of Brockton, near Boston, says, “When we’re violating the rights of U.S. citizens, I think that’s a dangerous line to be walking.”

Whether they are Republicans, Democrats or independents, almost half of Americans say they support the tea party movement or call themselves liberal.

Compared with their more moderate Republican or Democratic peers, tea partyers and liberals are significantly more likely to oppose the collection of millions of ordinary citizens’ telephone and Internet data, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

By a 2-to-1 margin, these two groups say the government should put protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms ahead of protecting them from terrorists.

Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans support the tea party movement. Nearly 4 in 10 Democrats call themselves liberals. Combined, they are buoying a coalition of conservative and liberal lawmakers pushing to rein in the NSA, while party leaders balk at anything that might weaken the agency’s ability to foil terrorists.

Why does the NSA unite the right and left ends of the political spectrum?

“More extreme political views lead to more distrust of government,” said George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin, who’s studied the tea party’s focus on the Constitution. People at the far ends of the political spectrum are less likely than middle-of-the-road voters to feel government is responsive to them.

On the flip side, Somin said, moderates generally don’t follow politics as closely as people at the extremes, so they may be less aware of the scope of the NSA’s activities.

“The whole thing is wrong,” says Virginia Greenfield, a tea-party supporter in Cortland, N.Y. But, she says, “most people don’t want to believe that the government would do what it’s doing.”

Liberals, who tend to trust government to handle many matters, also tend to be suspicious of intrusions into privacy or civil liberties. That aligns them on some issues with libertarians, the champions of individual rights who make up a substantial portion of the tea party movement.

Another segment of the tea party — social conservatives — deeply mistrusts President Barack Obama and his administration, an attitude likely to extend to the NSA while he’s in charge.

Obama is a point of contention in the anti-surveillance coalition. Eight in 10 tea partyers dislike the way he’s handled the issue; only about half of liberals disapprove. Still, the NSA brings liberals closer to the tea-party way of thinking than usual: On other big issues, liberals’ approval for Obama generally hovers around 70 percent.

When it comes to Snowden, tea-party supporters and liberals are back in step — about half of each group says the former NSA contractor did the right thing. Among non-tea party Republicans and nonliberal Democrats, a strong majority thinks he was wrong to reveal classified programs.

Christina Ott, who works on her family’s farm near Woodbury, Tenn., found Snowden’s action inspiring.

“I thought it was somebody taking a moral stand and a big risk,” said Ott, a liberal Democrat.

She isn’t surprised to find herself siding with the tea party for once. Regardless of their political views, Ott said, the people who worry about mass surveillance are the ones “who are paying close attention and believe it is possible for things to go badly wrong.”

But Lewis, an Obama fan, is shocked to agree with tea partyers about anything.

“I can’t explain it. It’s kind of scary,” she said, joking: “Now I might have to rethink my position.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for all respondents. Those respondents who did not have Internet access before joining the panel were provided it for free.

___

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

___

Follow Connie Cass on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ConnieCass

___

Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
_______________________________________________________

Copyright  © 2014 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2014 The Associated Press  All Rights Reserved.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Liberals retaking control in New York

Liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio . (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)
Liberal Democrat Bill de Blasio . (REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)

With Bill de Blasio taking office as mayor in January, New York City appears poised for a resurgence of liberal policies.

After 20 years of Republican leadership, not only will America’s largest city have the most liberal mayor in a generation, helping him implement change will be a progressive-leaning City Council and a longtime liberal ally in the new public advocate.

The city was governed for the last 12 years by Michael Bloomberg, a political independent who was first elected as a Republican, and for eight years before that by Republican Rudolph Giuliani.

To observers as well as Democratic legislators, the last election marked a major change in New York City politics, with a new breed of highly liberal politicians ready to enact a series of progressive policies that would have been dead on arrival under Bloomberg or his predecessor Giuliani.

“It’s seen as an opportunity by progressives to do something different,” said Douglas Muzzio, an expert on New York City politics and a professor at Baruch College at the City University of New York. “People projected their frustration, their anxiety, their expectations, their dreams on Bill. In that sense it wasn’t dissimilar from the 2008 election of Obama. Now he’s got to deliver.”

Pledging to address the gap between the rich and poor that grew wider as the city prospered while those at the bottom of the economic ladder struggled to pay for basic services such as housing and mass transit, de Blasio won a resounding victory in November with more than 70 percent of the vote.

Over the last decade, apartment rents in New York City increased about 44 percent and the cost of a monthly subway card rose by 60 percent.

De Blasio has vowed to set a new tone at City Hall, and his agenda includes reforming police tactics, offering universal access to early childhood education, expanding the city’s paid sick leave rules and improving the living standard for the 46 percent of New Yorkers at or below the poverty line.

“I would definitely define this as a movement,” said progressive Democrat Laurie Cumbo of Brooklyn, who was elected to the City Council in November. “This idea that somebody has to be on the bottom so somebody can be on the top, which is somewhat of a global business model, doesn’t have to be that way.”

PLAYING IT DIFFERENTLY

The shift in tone in city government is already apparent.

Earlier this month, the City Council took the rare step of rejecting a rezoning of Manhattan’s East Side, delivering a blow to Bloomberg and developers who had forcefully backed the plan.

Then, the city’s mass-transit agency announced it was cutting its planned fare increases for 2015 and 2017 by nearly half. The agency cited an improved fiscal outlook, but Gene Russianoff, a lawyer and the spokesman for the New York Public Interest Research Group’s Straphangers Campaign, said he saw the move as reflecting a changed political climate.

“They realized in the current political atmosphere it’s unsustainable to raise the fare a lot every year,” Russianoff said. “Bloomberg’s attitude was, ‘Everything goes up.’ I think de Blasio will play it differently.”

One early test for left-leaning politicians will be the race for the next City Council Speaker. Progressive members of the council, who saw their numbers double from 10 to 20 in November, have formed a Progressive Caucus and vowed to vote as a block for the next speaker.

“The mayor-elect has been very clear about his top priorities and they all line up very well with the goals of progressives in the Council,” said Councilman Brad Lander, a co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus.

On many issues, the liberals will find an ally in the city’s next Public Advocate, former councilwoman Letitia James. While James and de Blasio endorsed one another for the respective posts during the campaign, the new public advocate has pledged to keep rigorous checks and balances on the mayor.

James, a champion of minority and women’s rights, vocally opposed big development in her section of Brooklyn during her 10 years in the City Council, including the Atlantic Yards development and the recently opened Barclays Center, home to the Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team.

As liberals prepare their political wish lists, the city’s Republicans, outnumbered six-to-one by Democrats, are wary.

“We’ve had 20 years of success under Republican mayors,” said Manhattan Republican Party Chairman Dan Isaacs. “Improved safety, crime is down, business and real estate is thriving. But in some ways we were victims of our success. It’s hard to impart to people that the gains we’ve made could be lost very quickly.”

Muzzio said the challenge now is maintaining the progress logged under Bloomberg while making the city more inclusive.

“Bill isn’t a bomb-thrower,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of continuity with Bloomberg. There has to be.”
_______________________________________________________

Copyright  © 2013 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright  © 2013 Thomson Reuters  All Rights Reserved.