Saturday, July 03, 2021
Over the objections of three conservative justices, the US Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from a Washington State flower shop that violated state anti-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple on religious grounds.
With help from the ACLU, the couple sued the shop under Washington's anti-discrimination law, which says businesses that are open to the general public cannot refuse to serve someone based on sexual orientation, even on the basis of sincere religious beliefs.
After years of legal proceedings, the state's highest court sided with the couple. In 2018, the US Supreme Court remanded an appeal from Arlene's Flowers back to the state for a second look. A year later, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed its original decision.
"The adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination by declining to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple, and they did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination is not privileged or excused by the United States Constitution or the Washington Constitution," the court wrote.
"The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case—refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding—constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [law]," the Washington high court wrote in 2019.
Lawyers for Stutzman in a statement online called the decision "devastating news."
"The Supreme Court has once again said that critical nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people are legally enforceable and has set a strong and definitive precedent," said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.
Earlier this week, the court delivered another win for LGBT rights advocates by rejecting the appeal of a Virginia school board seeking to impose a transgender bathroom ban. The move means schools in at least five states can no longer discriminate on the basis of gender identity in the use of restroom facilities.
I wrote a few days ago about how ignorance — ignorance about history, about science, about economics and more — has become a core conservative value. This exaltation of ignorance naturally goes hand in hand with disdain for expertise: A vast majority of scientists may agree that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet, but hey, it’s all just a gigantic hoax.
But wait, there’s more. On the right, expertise isn’t just considered worthless, it’s viewed as disqualifying. People with actual knowledge of a policy area — certainly those with any kind of professional reputation — are often excluded from any role in shaping policy. Preference is given to the incompetent — often the luridly incompetent.
I’m currently reading “Nightmare Scenario,” an account by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta of the Trump administration’s catastrophic mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Much of what they report falls into the category of “shocking but not surprising.” One thing I didn’t know about, however, was the special destructive role played by Stephen Moore, an outside economic adviser.
It was Moore, the authors report, who walked into Donald Trump’s office just days after America went into lockdown to urge reopening by Easter. . . . and it contributed to a public health disaster that has so far claimed 600,000 American lives — with 95 percent of the deaths happening after Easter 2020.
It goes without saying that Moore isn’t an expert on epidemiology. But he isn’t an expert on economics, either. In fact, he has a reputation among many economists for being wrong about almost everything. . . . . it is unusual for him ever to get the facts right, or even manage to land in the remote vicinity of the truth.
Yet in right-wing circles Moore has failed steadily upward, serving as a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, becoming chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, and more. Trump tried to appoint him to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors and might have succeeded if Moore hadn’t been found in contempt of court for failure to pay alimony and child support.
And there he was, at a crucial moment in the pandemic, urging Trump to downplay the medical emergency and endanger American lives.
Yet by Philipson’s own account, pretty much nobody took his advice. And in general, the U.S. right — not just Trumpists but the movement as a whole — distrusts anyone whose competence has resulted in an independent professional reputation. After all, you never know when someone like that might take a stand on principle.
I’ve written in the past that “the modern G.O.P. doesn’t want to hear from serious economists, whatever their politics. It prefers charlatans and cranks, who are its kind of people.” And it turns out that the same is true for epidemiologists.
The right’s hatred of Dr. Anthony Fauci is a familiar story. However, much of “Nightmare Scenario” follows the saga of Dr. Deborah Birx . . . . Trump’s inner circle never trusted her precisely because she was knowledgeable and had a reputation to defend. She was shut out in favor of politically reliable quacks.
So how did we end up here? How did one of our two major political parties come not only to reject democracy, but to exalt ignorance and despise competence of any kind? I don’t know, but if you aren’t terrified, you aren’t paying attention.
Friday, July 02, 2021
[T]he Trump Organization is confronting troubles that accumulated gradually and have coalesced suddenly. And once again, friends are at the bottom of it.
A grand-jury indictment of Donald Trump’s business and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, unsealed this afternoon in New York, alleges tax evasion arising from an attempt to pay Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives extra money “off the books.” Prosecutors charge that Weisselberg and others received rent payments and other benefits without paying the appropriate taxes on them. Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have said they will plead not guilty.
So far, the danger is to Trump’s friends and his business, not the former president himself. But the danger could spiral, because Trump knew only so many tricks. If Trump’s company was bypassing relatively moderate amounts of tax on the income flows to Trump’s friends, what was it doing with the much larger income flows to Trump and his own family? Even without personal testimony, finances leave a trail. There is always a debit and a credit, and a check issued to the IRS or not.
An early indication that things may end badly for Trump is the statement released today from the Trump Organization. “Allen Weisselberg is a loving and devoted husband, father and grandfather who has worked for the Trump Organization for 48 years. He is now being used by the Manhattan District Attorney as a pawn in a scorched earth attempt to harm the former President. . . . . This is not justice; this is politics.”
Here is what is missing from that statement: “I’m 100 percent confident that every investigation will always end up in the same conclusion, which is that I follow all rules, procedures, and, most importantly, the law.” That’s the language used by former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke when he was facing ethics charges in 2018. Likewise, when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was accused of violating campaign-finance laws in 2016, he too was “very confident” that “there was no wrongdoing.” Plug the phrases very confident and no wrongdoing into a search engine and you will pull up statement after statement by politicians and business leaders under fire. . . . It’s the thing an innocent person would want to say. So it’s kind of a tell when it goes unsaid.
An earlier statement from Trump himself likewise omitted an affirmative defense of his company and its employees, and instead attacked the professional prosecutors as “radical Left” (not to mention “rude, nasty, and totally biased”). The key line in Trump’s own statement is an anticipation of the possibility that one or another of his friends might flip: “They”—the prosecutors—continue to be “in search of a crime; and will do anything to frighten people into making up the stories or lies that they want.”
One of Trump’s skills as a politician is preparing the battlefield in advance. . . . . He’s readying his supporters for bad revelations about his company’s taxes and directing them to a fallback line that singling him out as a tax scofflaw is politically unfair.
That line of defense may well rally Trump’s supporters. It will not do him much good in court. It’s impossible for tax collectors to scrutinize every return. Selecting high-profile evaders and holding them to account is how tax laws are enforced. And if a former president numbers among those high-profile evaders, that makes the case for targeting him stronger, not weaker. It sends the message that the tax authorities most want to send: Everybody has to pay, especially powerful politicians.
Trump and his team already appear to expect that the law will be against him. They are counting on that fact not to matter very much—not enough to overcome the political hullabaloo they hope to raise in Trump’s defense.
Trump worked all his life on the theory that law can be subordinated to political favors and political pressures. That theory has carried him this far—and it’s pretty far, all things considered. We are now about to see a mighty test, before the country and the world, of whether that theory will carry him the rest of the way home.
Thursday, July 01, 2021
For years before the partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South complex near Miami, the condo board wrestled with how to come up with the $15 million needed to fix the building’s dilapidated roof, a poorly designed pool deck and crumbling support columns.
The problem: The homeowners’ association had just $800,000 in reserves, and getting the work done meant asking residents to shoulder huge special assessments ranging from $80,000 to $200,000 on each home. No one was eager to pay.
“The dirtiest words in the community-association industry are ‘special assessment,’” Donna DiMaggio Berger, a lawyer for the board, said of the effort to get 135 homeowners — of varying means and of multiple nationalities — to agree on a plan to do the repairs.
During the prolonged tumult over the needed renovations, several members of the board had quit in frustration.
The deferred maintenance and inadequate savings at the Champlain Towers building are common dilemmas at condo associations across the country, where volunteer board members, sometimes with little expertise in financing or maintenance, find themselves dealing with vicious infighting with their neighbors and pressure to keep dues low.
Only about 10 states require associations of homeowners to assess how much money they will need for big-ticket repairs in the future, and a vast majority of states do not require condo boards to maintain robust reserves to help pay for those items when they come due.
About one-third of associations are far behind on their savings, with 30 percent or less of the money needed to prepare for future big-ticket projects, said Robert Nordlund, whose company, Association Reserves, has studied tens of thousands of condominium groups and other homeowners’ associations in all 50 states. He said some boards get stuck focusing on regular maintenance costs — utilities, gardeners and pool cleaning — but fail to think about the even bigger bills that could arrive with sudden urgency.
The debates over deferred maintenance, money management and escalating homeowners’ association dues that unfolded in Surfside are hardly unfamiliar to condo residents across the country, who often find themselves caught up in political dramas with their neighbors whose outcome can dictate everything from the color of their garages to the resale value of their homes.
Industry leaders and some states have long pressed condos and other homeowners’ associations to have robust reserve funds in order to avoid consternation and procrastination when a big bill is coming due. But with little voluntary progress, a move to reshape state laws has gained momentum in recent months, attracting support from some homeowners, community managers and engineers in the industry.
A committee at the Community Associations Institute, which advocates for homeowners’ associations, is looking at a proposal to require homeowner communities to commission expert studies to assess the amount they need in reserves. Dawn M. Bauman, the institute’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, said the committee was also looking at minimum reserve requirements, although that proposal was subject to more vigorous debate.
The next backstop is local government, which could determine that a lack of repair is a code violation, which could trigger enforcement proceedings to force compliance.
At the Champlain Towers South project, the condo association had been working with an engineer in preparation for a 40-year recertification process required by the government. A letter written in April by the condo president, Ms. Wodnicki, showed that the association did not have enough reserves or cash on hand to fund the $15 million in repairs that residents were being asked to pay. And she warned that conditions in the building had “gotten significantly worse” since a 2018 engineering review highlighted millions of dollars in problems.
The Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg surrendered to the Manhattan district attorney's office Thursday morning, following reports that a grand jury in Manhattan filed criminal indictments against the executive and the organization for tax-related charges, according to multiple sources. . . . . Weisselberg, who has worked for Trump since the 1980s, was accompanied by his lawyer Mary E. Mulligan when he turned himself in at about 6:20 a.m., according to the New York Times. He is expected to be arraigned in the afternoon along with other company representatives.
A grand jury in Manhattan has indicted Donald J. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, and one of its top executives in connection with a tax investigation into fringe benefits handed out at the company, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The specific charges against the company and its chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, were not immediately clear. The indictment was expected to be unsealed Thursday afternoon after Mr. Weisselberg and lawyers for the Trump Organization appear in court.
But prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office have been examining bonuses and luxury perks that Mr. Weisselberg received — including an apartment in Manhattan, leased Mercedes-Benz cars and private school tuition for at least one of his grandchildren — and whether taxes should have been paid on those benefits.
The charges will deal a blow to Mr. Trump, who has denounced the investigation as political persecution. Although he could rally supporters around the idea that he is the victim of what he has called a “witch hunt,” defending his company on criminal charges could be an expensive distraction as he considers another presidential run.
The indictment will also amplify the pressure that prosecutors have placed on Mr. Weisselberg for months to turn on Mr. Trump and cooperate with their ongoing investigation.
Interviews with 18 current and former associates of Mr. Weisselberg, as well as a review of legal filings, financial records and other documents, paint a portrait of a man whose unflinching devotion to Mr. Trump will now be put to the test.
Mr. Weisselberg and his wife moved into a Trump-branded building on Manhattan’s West Side, where they lived rent-free for years. He bought a home in South Florida, not far from Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, and traveled there and back on weekends on Mr. Trump’s jet.
Mr. Weisselberg had become so woven into the fabric of the Trump Organization that when Mr. Trump moved into the White House in 2017, he entrusted Mr. Weisselberg, along with the former president’s adult sons, with running his company. His earnings reflected his importance: Between 2007 and 2017, his total pay averaged nearly $800,000 a year; in 2018, he earned more than $977,000 in salary and deferred compensation, according to tax return data obtained by The New York Times as part of an investigation published last year.
Mr. Weisselberg has maintained that keeping a close eye on the organization’s finances and accounting had not given him insight into potential malfeasance at the company. In a 2015 deposition, he made it clear that it was not his job to ensure that the company complied with the law; it was the job of the Trump Organization lawyers.
Among the tasks Mr. Weisselberg attacked with fervor, former employees recalled, was ensuring that, per Mr. Trump’s direction, no dime left the company’s coffers unless absolutely necessary.
“He and Trump were like Frick and Frack when it came to stiffing vendors,” Mr. Cohen — who at times took on that same role for Mr. Trump — wrote in a book published last year. Mr. Burke, who served as chief financial officer for Mr. Trump’s casino business, said any Trump employee who dealt with vendors knew to “squeeze every penny” out of people, and that Mr. Weisselberg excelled at minimizing and delaying payment.
But more recently, Mr. Weisselberg’s actions on behalf of Mr. Trump have made him vulnerable. When federal prosecutors charged Mr. Cohen in 2018 with various crimes, including campaign finance violations for the payment to Ms. Daniels, they described Mr. Weisselberg as “Executive-1,” according to people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case. Mr. Weisselberg instructed a subordinate to classify the reimbursement to Mr. Cohen as legal fees, even though no legal services were performed, prosecutors wrote.
[T]he Trump Organization’s lawyers have taken steps to avoid the appearance of any impropriety. In the past, many of Mr. Trump and Mr. Weisselberg’s conversations were private and behind closed doors. Now, they are under instructions to meet in the presence of a witness.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
I owe a lot to Gary Mahoney. He was the campus conservative back in the middle ’70s, when I was a student at the University of Southern California and we went at it hammer and tongs a few times on the opinion pages of the Daily Trojan. I no longer recall the details of our disagreements. What I do remember is realizing that he was good and that I had to up my game — tighten my reasoning, sharpen my logic — if I hoped to stay in the ring with him.
I value those years less for any specific thing I learned in class than for the fact that I learned how to think. Not “what” to think, but how, i.e., how to gather and evaluate information, how to analyze and extrapolate from it, how to defend my ideas in the scrum of intellectual conflict.
That’s a lesson students will be denied if Republicans like Ron DeSantis get their way. Last week, Florida’s governor signed a bill requiring the state’s public colleges and universities to survey students and faculty on their ideological beliefs. The aim, he claims, is to prevent schools from “indoctrinating” students. DeSantis has hinted that those failing to show “intellectual diversity” will face budget cuts. . . . Florida seeks not to further intellectual diversity, but to prevent it.
Meaning, it aims to protect kids raised on mom and dad’s steady diet of Fox “News” and Breitbart from the shock of having any ideas they’ve thereby imbibed challenged in the outside world. Which is hypocritical on its face. After all, conservatives once — not unreasonably — chided liberals for trying to bubble-wrap students with trigger warnings and safe spaces. Now they use force of law to do the very same thing.
[I]t’s none of the state’s business what you or I think. It should be likewise obvious that this law will stifle debate and muzzle instructors and is thus antithetical to the mission of our colleges and universities.
There is no mystery why conservatives find education dangerous. A 2015 Pew Research Center study quantified that the better educated one is, the more likely one is to hold liberal beliefs. . . . . it’s because once you learn how to think, you’re less susceptible to thin reasoning and easy answers. And increasingly, that’s all conservatism’s got.
That may not have been true — or at least, may have been less true — decades ago. But back then, the right had some intellectual underpinning, had yet to devolve into the twitching id of perpetual resentment now on daily display.
[I]s anyone overawed by the profundity of Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene? How about Louie Gohmert? Or even Ron DeSantis?
An opinion one can’t defend — using actual facts and recognizable reason — is an opinion not worth having. At some level, conservatives must know they fail that standard, so they work to undermine it instead, to make the world safe for ignorance.
Teach your children well, the songwriter said. But this is the opposite of that.
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
This Pride month, as revelers hit the streets to celebrate LGBTQ history, Republican state legislatures are hard at work trying to erase it. And it’s not just epochal events like the Stonewall riots, or towering figures like Harvey Milk, that could be wiped from classroom instruction. In public schools in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Montana, it may soon become illegal even to mention Bayard Rustin, the openly gay co-organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, or educate kids about the AIDS crisis.
In May, Tennessee became the first state to pass what queer-rights advocates have branded as “Don’t Say Gay” laws, which either forbid the teaching of LGBTQ history in K-12 schools outright or allow parents to choose whether their children participate in lessons that include it. Within days, Montana followed suit. Yet another bill in Arkansas awaits the signature of the state’s Republican governor. Similar bills have been considered in West Virginia, Iowa, and Missouri, and even more proposals are percolating through red-state legislatures.
Akin to bans on the teaching of critical race theory, these laws seek to preserve the myth that the story of America is one of inexorable progress and unblemished virtue, that we stand exceptional among nations as the gleaming embodiment of democracy; they also imply that a great number of us don’t matter. In particular, legislation forbidding the teaching of queer history aims to ossify what remains of society’s moral disapproval of LGBTQ people and endangers queer youth susceptible to suicide.
“It is a false representation of the past, one in which LGBTQ people are imagined never to have existed,” said Anthony Mora, associate professor of history and Latinx studies at the University of Michigan. “The hesitancy to open up questions about the failures of the past—of not living up to the goals of the republic—is less about the past than about not wanting to change the present, to hold in place the status quo and not allow for real moments of debate and change.”
Mora’s group, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Historical Association released a joint statement in May condemning the recent spate of “Don’t Say Gay” bills, which the organizations say perpetuate homophobia, distort the historical record, and deprive students—queer and not—of a complete education.
Politically, the bills reflect the resurgence of culture-war politics at the state level now that Republicans are out of power in Congress and the White House, and the religious right’s expanding moral panic over the advancement of LGBTQ rights. The laws in Tennessee and Montana, as with the bill in Arkansas, are in one sense narrow—designed, it seems, to invite legal challenges at a time when an overwhelmingly conservative Supreme Court is inclined to grant religious exemptions.
In form, these bills are akin to religious exemptions allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ patrons, and raise questions similar to those that the Supreme Court declined to address earlier this month in Fulton v. Philadelphia, as it did three years ago in Masterpiece Cakeshop: Namely, where does “religious liberty” end and nondiscrimination begin? Unable to stop our culture’s embrace of queer people, the right’s best chances now stand with exempting itself from the new social order.
And yet, in the last several years, six other states—California, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Illinois, and Nevada—have passed laws mandating the teaching of LGBTQ history.
“The unmistakable goal is to make it harder for schools to share true information about the contributions made by LGBTQ people so all students can better understand this aspect of human diversity.”
Vagueness and unintended consequences were the rationale Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, gave in April for vetoing a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would require parents to opt in rather than opt out (as they do in the state for sex education). Iowa considered a similar opt-in bill before its legislative session ended with the measure stuck in committee.
In Alabama and Texas, students must be taught in sex ed that being gay is “not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” In South Carolina, you can’t talk about gay relationships outside the context of disease transmission. Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have similarly homophobic restrictions on public education on the books.
“The triumphs of the Black, women, and gay liberation movements are three of the most uplifting stories about American democracy of the last 50 years,” said Charles Kaiser, author of The Gay Metropolis, a preeminent account of gay life in America. “The idea that ignorant people now think the most important thing they can do is suppress stories that tell you the best things about America is just repellent on every level.”
As everyone knows, leftists hate America’s military. Recently, a prominent left-wing media figure attacked Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring, “He’s not just a pig, he’s stupid.”
Oh, wait. That was no leftist, that was Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. What set Carlson off was testimony in which Milley told a congressional hearing that he considered it important “for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and widely read.”
The problem is obvious. Closed-mindedness and ignorance have become core conservative values, and those who reject these values are the enemy, no matter what they may have done to serve the country.
The Milley hearing was part of the orchestrated furor over “critical race theory,” which has dominated right-wing media for the past few months, getting close to 2,000 mentions on Fox so far this year. . . . they understand that it has something to do with assertions that America has a history of racism and of policies that explicitly or implicitly widened racial disparities.
The Tulsa race massacre really happened, and it was only one of many such incidents. The 1938 underwriting manual for the Federal Housing Administration really did declare that “incompatible racial groups should not be permitted to live in the same communities.”
We can argue about the relevance of this history to current policy, but who would argue against acknowledging simple facts?
The modern right, that’s who. The current obsession with critical race theory is a cynical attempt to change the subject away from the Biden administration’s highly popular policy initiatives, while pandering to the white rage that Republicans deny exists. But it’s only one of multiple subjects on which willful ignorance has become a litmus test for anyone hoping to succeed in Republican politics.
Thus, to be a Republican in good standing one must deny the reality of man-made climate change, or at least oppose any meaningful action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. One must reject or at least express skepticism about the theory of evolution. And don’t even get me started on things like the efficacy of tax cuts.
What underlies this cross-disciplinary commitment to ignorance? On each subject, refusing to acknowledge reality serves special interests. Climate denial caters to the fossil fuel industry; evolution denial caters to religious fundamentalists; tax-cut mysticism caters to billionaire donors.
In the modern right-wing universe of ideas, everything is political; there are no safe subjects. This politicization of everything inevitably creates huge tension between conservatives and institutions that try to respect reality.
There have been many studies documenting the strong Democratic lean of college professors, which is often treated as prima facie evidence of political bias in hiring. . . . . An obvious counterargument to claims of biased hiring is self-selection: How many conservatives choose to pursue careers in, say, sociology? Is hiring bias the reason police officers seem to have disproportionately supported Donald Trump in the 2016 election, or is this simply a reflection of the kind of people who choose careers in law enforcement?
But beyond that, the modern G.O.P. is no home for people who believe in objectivity. One striking feature of surveys of academic partisanship is the overwhelming Democratic lean in hard sciences like biology and chemistry; but is that really hard to understand when Republicans reject science on so many fronts?
The U.S. military has traditionally leaned Republican, but the modern officer corps is highly educated, open-minded and, dare I say it, even a bit intellectual — because those are attributes that help win wars.
Unfortunately, they are also attributes the modern G.O.P. finds intolerable.
So something like the attack on Milley was inevitable. Right-wingers have gone all in on ignorance, so they were bound to come into conflict with every institution — including the U.S. military — that is trying to cultivate knowledge.
Monday, June 28, 2021
On June 26, 2015, six years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state laws that discriminated against gay and lesbian unions and made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Unlike other landmark civil-rights decisions, like the court’s 1954 order to desegregate schools, implementation of Obergefell v. Hodges was straightforward and easy. The most any local clerk, county recorder or state health department had to do was to change a few words on an application for a marriage license.
The impact of those small clerical adjustments is now strikingly clear. According to the census, more than half of the country’s nearly one million same-sex partner households are now married. . . . . Gallup recently found that 70 percent of the American public, including for the first time a majority of Republicans, now support equal marriage rights.
But it has also become apparent how limited Obergefell’s effect turned out to be. The court’s majority opinion was soaring and celestial in its rhetoric, but very grounded in its legal scope. In many areas, conflicts over LGBTQ rights remain as unsettled as they were before the marriage case was decided—so much so that some gay-rights litigators are today as likely to rue Obergefell as a missed opportunity as to celebrate its influence.
There’s an irony to where they have found themselves, as the narrowness of their campaign was, initially, a winning strategy. For years, lawyers suing for marriage equality circumscribed their cases as tightly as possible, so that judges already ambivalent about expanding rights to same-sex couples would not see anything further at stake than state marriage laws.
But a simultaneous ruling by the court that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional dramatically changed gay-rights litigators’ view of what was possible. By the time the big question—whether states could restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples—landed back in the Supreme Court in the Obergefell case in 2015, the lawyers decided to aim higher. They saw an opportunity to leverage Obergefell into a case whose impact would be felt far beyond state marriage laws.
Standing before the justices that spring, Bonauto and Verrilli argued that sexual minorities should be treated as a protected class under federal civil-rights law. . . . In essence, the lawyers were asking the justices to make the case about who was targeted by the laws, rather than what right had been denied them.
Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had previously written three watershed opinions that had helped to establish the full citizenship of gay men and lesbians, had consistently declined to see the cases on those terms. His opinions turned on amorphous concepts like “respect” and “dignity” in place of the rigorous logic of civil-rights jurisprudence. When Obergefell reached his desk, Kennedy drafted a majority opinion that treated it very much as a case about the specific right at stake rather than the class of people harmed.
But now the decision’s limits are becoming clearer. While a federal court cited Obergefell in 2016 as a basis to strike down Mississippi’s ban on adoption by gay couples, its impact has been barely felt in areas beyond family law. Indeed, in the years since, gay-rights advocates and litigators have been fighting many of the same issues they confronted years, even decades, earlier.
Congress has yet to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other federal statutes, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as categories protected against discrimination. In last summer’s Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court ruled that gay men, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people could already not be denied work based on the law’s inclusion of “sex” as a basis on which employment discrimination was prohibited. But that reasoning in the majority opinion, laid out by Kennedy’s successor Neil Gorsuch, again refused to read coverage for sexual minorities into the Constitution. That meant Bostock did not address legal discrimination against them in other spheres—such as housing, education, lending or public accommodation—and left open the possibility that a conservative Congress could still amend the Civil Rights Act to expressly permit it.
Indeed, what gave Obergefell its cultural force may also be what limited its legal impact—and laid the challenge that another generation of strategists and campaigners will need to tackle.
A majority of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops didn’t seem concerned that by uncritically fusing the vicious culture wars of our secular politics with the church’s sacrament of the Eucharist, they will drive more people away from faith and a transcendent sense of life.
A group of angry men (they are all men) seemed to want nothing to do with their brothers and sisters who believe that social justice and a radical concern for “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged,” as Francis put it in 2018, should be at the heart of Catholic teaching.
No, they would relegate all this to an inferior status in comparison with opposition to abortion.
It’s the anti-Francis majority of American bishops, not liberals or Francis defenders, who would put politics ahead of faith, ideology ahead of theology, and partisanship ahead of fellowship. The 75 percent of bishops who voted on June 17 to prepare the statement are importing the worst aspects of American politics into the life of the church.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) seemed to have second thoughts about how all this was coming across, so it issued a statement last week, four days after the vote, insisting that “there will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians” and that the document would not be “targeted at any one individual or class of persons.”
But much harm had already been done, as pro-Francis bishops pointed out during the debate. “The Eucharist itself will be a tool in vicious partisan turmoil,” Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego warned. “It will be impossible to prevent its weaponization, even if everyone wants to do so.”
Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, added: “The choice before us at this moment is either we pursue a path of strengthening unity or settle for a document that will not bring unity but will very well further damage it.”
That’s especially true in light of a Pew Research Center survey this spring finding that given Biden’s views on abortion, 67 percent of U.S. Catholics still said that he should be allowed to receive communion; only 29 percent said he should not. Even among Catholics who are Republican or lean that way, only a bare majority (55 percent) said Biden should not be allowed to receive communion. Fully 44 percent of them thought Biden should be permitted. Thus bishops who would block Biden from the Eucharist found themselves allied with the most conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Whatever the bishops decide in the coming months, Biden is unlikely to be denied communion, as the USCCB’s subsequent statement effectively conceded — at least when he’s close to home. The Vatican may step in, and the leaders of the dioceses where Biden typically attends Mass, including Gregory, have, to their credit, allowed the faithfully churchgoing president to receive.
That this is even an issue shows how the viruses of the political right have infected the U.S. church leadership. It stands almost alone in the Catholic world in its singular focus on abortion, . . . It’s a useful warning to a church that aspires to scripture’s call to “speak the truth in love,” and to expand rather than contract the reach of religious faith and the Gospel.
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Police in the town of Leesburg, Virginia have recovered about 35 flyers distributed locally by a white supremacist group. Their appearance follows Tuesday’s chaotic Loudoun County school board meeting that ended early due to transphobic, religious-right protesters.
The fliers came from the Loyal White Knights, otherwise known as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a long-running anti-Black domestic terrorist organization. The fliers appeared at homes in a Loudoun County neighborhood. The fliers were sealed in plastic sandwich bags and weighted down with rocks and birdseed.
The fliers read: “LOUDON COUNTY, VA- OPPOSE QUEER-LOVING, CRT-CRAZY SCHOOL BOARD! CITIZENS, WORK TOGETHER WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT- WE’LL NEED EACH OTHER TO STOP THE COMMUNISTS!!! … 100% AMERICANISM – PRAY FOR WHITE AMERICANS”
The flier also contained a web address, a phone number, a brief podcast ad, and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment (with spelling errors).
The Leesburg Police Department’s deputy chief of police and acting public information officer, Major Vanessa Grigsby, told LGBTQ Nation that the KKK has left fliers locally before. But it usually happens around the mid-January Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, she said. The fliers have never before mentioned the school board, she added.
The flier’s reference to “CRT” alludes to Critical Race Theory, an academic field exploring the social and historic consequences of race and racism taught in law schools. In Tuesday’s school board meeting, protestors demanded that the board ban its teaching in district schools, even though the K-12 district’s schools don’t teach it.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, two local anti-CRT groups—Parents Against Critical Theory (P.A.C.T.) and Fight for Schools—spoke against CRT. They also opposed a draft policy that would require teachers to address students by their proper pronouns and names. The policy would also put the district’s standards for transgender bathroom access in line with state and federal law.
During the meeting, a woman looked directly at a police officer who was trying to remove her fellow protesters.
“You know they’re trying to replace you, right? Trying to replace you in the police force?” she told the officer. Another woman pointed her finger at the policeman’s face while accusing him of “not protecting our rights.”
“You are fascist and the county taxpayer pays your salary, shame on you!” another woman yelled at the seated members of the school board. “The parents have a duty to defend their children!”
Former President Donald Trump repeatedly tried to ban CRT, diversity training, and transgender civil rights. His administration believed that CRT teaches that white people are evil and that citizens should “hate our country.” His policies repeatedly tried to ban trans people from joining the military, playing sports, receiving medical care, using bathrooms and more.
Trump’s former Justice Department spokesman, Ian Prior, runs Fight for Schools, one of the aforementioned right-wing groups that took over the Tuesday board meeting.