Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Friday, November 25, 2022
Will House Republicans Self-Destruct?
The list of investigative priorities for the House Judiciary Committee that the incoming chairperson, Jim Jordan, sent to the Justice Department earlier this month reads like an assignment sheet for Fox News.
And that was before Jordan, with incoming House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair James Comer, repeatedly insisted the FBI had colluded with “Big Tech” to undermine former president Donald Trump by “suppressing” information about Hunter Biden’s laptop prior to the 2020 election.
Two months before taking power, the new House Republican majority has signaled that its investigative agenda will channel the preoccupations of the former president and his die-hard base of supporters. But it has set this course immediately after a midterm election in which voters outside the core conservative states sent an unmistakable signal of their own by repeatedly rejecting Trump-backed candidates in high-profile senate and gubernatorial races. That contrast captures why the GOP’s plans for aggressive investigations of President Joe Biden may present as much political risk for the investigators as it does for the targets.
But the new majority’s focus on airing echo-chamber conservative obsessions risks further stamping the GOP as the party of Trump precisely as more Republican leaders and donors insist the recent election results demonstrate the need to move beyond him.
“All these folks are coming out saying, ‘Turn the page; move forward’ … and I think this is really a problem if some of these [House] members are going to continue to look back and embrace Trump at a time when we saw the most Trumpian candidates get their heads handed to them,” former Republican Representative Charlie Dent told me.
The choices confronting GOP leaders on what—and how—to investigate encapsulates the much larger challenge they will face in managing the House. This month’s midterm election left the GOP with a House majority much smaller than it expected. The results also created a kind of split-personality caucus operating with very different political incentives.
Most incoming House Republicans represent districts in Trump country: 168 of them hold seats that Trump won by 10 percentage points or more in 2020. Another three dozen represent more marginal Republican-leaning seats that Trump carried by fewer than 10 points two years ago.
But the GOP majority relies on what will likely be 18 members (when all the final votes are counted) who won districts that voted for Biden in 2020. Eleven of those 18 are in New York and California alone—two states that will likely become considerably more difficult for Republicans in a presidential-election year than during a midterm contest.
For the Republicans from the hard-core Trump districts, demonstrating a commitment to confronting Biden at every turn is crucial for preempting any possible primary challenges from their right, says the Democratic consultant Meredith Kelly, . . . . But, as Dent told me, the Republicans precariously holding the Biden seats have the “polar opposite” incentive: “They need to have bipartisan victories and wins.”
[M]any analysts second the prediction of outgoing Democratic Representative David Price of North Carolina, a political scientist who has written several books about Congress, that the new GOP House majority is not likely to pass much legislation. The problem, Price told me, is not only the partisan and ideological fracture in the GOP caucus, but that its members do not have “an agenda that they campaigned on or they are committed to.”
All members of the GOP caucus might agree on legislation to extend the Trump tax cuts, to promote more domestic energy production, or to increase funding for border security. But resistance from the Republicans in blue and purple districts may frustrate many of the right’s most ambitious legislative goals, such as repealing elements of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, passing a national ban on abortion, and forcing cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
With their legislative opportunities limited, House Republicans may see relentless investigation of Biden and his administration as a path of least resistance that can unite their caucus.
Jordan, asked at that press conference about the reports that McCarthy has committed to an investigation of the prosecution and treatment of the January 6 rioters, refused to deny it, instead repeating his determination to explore all examples of alleged politicization at the Justice Department. At one point, Jordan, an unwavering defender of Trump through his two impeachments, delivered an impassioned attack on federal law enforcement that reprised a long list of familiar Trump grievances.
Jordan doesn’t even represent the outer edge of conservative ambition to use House investigations to settle scores for Trump. Earlier this week, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida tweeted that when Republicans take the majority, they “should take over the @January6thCmte and release every second of footage that will exonerate our Patriots!”
That might be a bridge too far even for McCarthy. But as he scrambles to overcome conservative resistance to his bid for speaker, he has already shown deference to demands from the Trump-country members who constitute the dominant block in his caucus. One example was the report that he promised Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene that he would allow some investigation into treatment of the January 6 rioters.
Dent, the former GOP representative, told me that on all these fronts, House Republicans risk pushing oversight to a confrontational peak that may damage its members from marginal seats at least as much as it hurts Biden—particularly if it involves what he described as airing Trump grievances. “These rabbit holes are just fraught with political peril in these more moderate districts,” Dent said.
Democrats hope that the coming GOP investigations will alienate more voters than they alarm. Several Democratic strategists told me they believe that the focus on so many conservative causes will both spotlight the most extreme Trump-aligned voices in the Republican caucus, such as Jordan and Greene, and strike swing voters as a distraction from their kitchen-table concerns. . . . . the GOP inquiries will inexorably identify the party with the same polarizing style of Trump-like politics that voters just repudiated in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. “We saw in this election that voters reject the Trump playbook and MAGA politics, but that is exactly what they will see in these hearings,” he said.
Recognizing the potential political risk, several Republican representatives newly elected in Biden districts have already urged their party to move slowly on the probes and instead to prioritize action on economic issues. Their problem is that McCarthy already has given every indication he’s likely to prioritize the demands for maximum confrontation from his caucus’s pro-Trump majority.
Expect a Benghazi style circus on steroids.
Thursday, November 24, 2022
3 Mass Shootings, a Thanksgiving With 14 Empty Chairs
A janitor working his shift at a Virginia Walmart. A 40-year-old woman returning home to Colorado Springs for the holidays. A young man at his girlfriend’s side, watching her friend perform in a drag show.
Three college football players. A mother who worked to help foster children. One bartender who remembered your drink and another who danced.
White and Black, gay and straight, old and young. The collection of the newly dead from just three of this month’s mass shootings are the very picture of the ideals — inclusivity, setting aside differences — that America prides itself on at this time each November. Fourteen people who did not know their last Thanksgiving was already behind them.
Tuesday’s rampage, in which six people were killed in a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., was the 33rd mass shooting in November alone, and the nation’s 606th this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
That shooting occurred after three students were killed at the University of Virginia on Nov. 13 and five people were killed on Saturday night at a gay club in Colorado Springs.
Yesterday’s parents, children and friends became Thursday’s empty chairs.
“She was going to be at my house for Thanksgiving,” Natalee Skye Bingham said of her friend, Kelly Loving, a Memphis native who promised a spread of Southern food — deviled eggs, collard greens and baked mac and cheese.
“She couldn’t wait to cook for me,” Ms. Bingham said. “And I couldn’t wait to cook for her.”
Instead, she was killed inside Club Q during a night meant to cheer her up. “Now, it’s one less person at my table,” Ms. Bingham said.
All three shootings were carried out at places that, for those within, felt warmly familiar. Safe.
Club Q was widely described as “family” to the L.G.B.T.Q. and straight patrons alike who came there for a drink and a show. The University of Virginia athletes were shot on a bus returning from a play they had watched for a class. And now a Walmart store, a place instantly recognizable throughout America, this one located in a former colony older than the country itself.
At the University of Virginia, the slain football players — Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, “vibrant, beautiful young men” — were celebrated at a memorial service that drew some 9,000 people.
Fearsome on the field, the players were remembered as sweet young boys.
Half the country away, in Club Q, with its bingo and karaoke nights and weekend drag shows, Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston were popular bartenders.
Raymond Green Vance, 22, was the opposite of a regular — he had only set foot in Club Q for the first time on Saturday, to watch the show with his girlfriend since middle school and her father, Richard M. Fierro, a U.S. Army veteran happy to be invited along.
“These kids want to live that way, want to have a good time, have at it,” he said later as he described the night. “I’m happy about it because that is what I fought for, so they can do whatever the hell they want.”
But later, as the survivors huddled together, the loyal boyfriend was not among them. “My little girl, she screamed,” Mr. Fierro said, “and I was crying with her.”
In Chesapeake, the dead were identified a day after Tuesday night’s shooting, in which a longtime Walmart manager arrived at the store with a handgun and extra ammunition and opened fire before killing himself, the police said.
First came the names: Randall Blevins, a longtime member of the team that set prices and arranged merchandise. Brian Pendleton, a maintenance worker known to help with whatever the problem was at hand.
Then came the adjectives, painfully familiar: “Quiet,” a neighbor said of one victim, Tyneka Johnson. Another called her “a sweet young lady.”
“Such a nice guy,” a friend posted on Facebook, speaking of Mr. Pendleton.
They are among the qualities for which Americans are most thankful, rendered now in too-short obituaries.
All sacrificed on the altar of the gun lobby and the demons of those made lethal thanks to the easy - and utterly unneccessay - access to guns that no one really nned to possess.
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
Ron DeSantis Is Also a Threat to America
If you believe Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis would be a less dangerous presidential candidate than former president Donald Trump, take a moment to consider the recent ruling striking down DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE Act.” That opinion — as well as other rulings against his attempts to inhibit dissent — makes clear that DeSantis is just as willing as Trump to embrace the GOP’s authoritarian element and use state power to punish his enemies.
To recap, the Stop WOKE Act — also perversely known as the Individual Freedom Act — is the Orwellian scheme that DeSantis signed into law earlier this year to muzzle the candid discussion of race and racism in classrooms and the workplace. As U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker explains in his opinion, “The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints.” He dryly continued, “Defendants argue that, under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves.”
DeSantis, in attempting to curtail the discussion of political positions of which he disapproves, followed in a long line of authoritarians who have attempted to paint dissent as dangerous and, therefore, unprotected.
During oral arguments, when asked if this would bar professors from supporting affirmative action in classroom settings, attorneys for the state government answered, “Your Honor, yes.”
Walker cited that admission, finding:
Thus, Defendants assert the idea of affirmative action is so “repugnant” that instructors can no longer express approval of affirmative action as an idea worthy of merit during class instruction. … What does this mean in practical terms? Assuming the University of Florida Levin College of Law decided to invite Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak to a class of law students, she would be unable to offer this poignant reflection about her own lived experience, because it endorses affirmative action.
The law so blatantly violates the concept of free speech that one wonders if remedial constitutional education should be a requirement for Florida officeholders.
Walker tore into DeSantis and the GOP legislature, holding that the law “is antithetical to academic freedom and has cast a leaden pall of orthodoxy over Florida’s state universities.” He declined to mince words: “In this case, the State of Florida lays the cornerstone of its own Ministry of Truth under the guise of the Individual Freedom Act, declaring which viewpoints shall be orthodox and which shall be verboten in its university classrooms,” he wrote. “The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark.”
That is the essence of authoritarianism. DeSantis’s willingness to back such a monstrous violation of free expression should send up warning flags about his commitment to uphold the Constitution.
Walker is the same judge who struck down another DeSantis assault on the First Amendment — his vague anti-riot law to quell demonstrations. In that opinion, Walker recalled, “In 1956 and 1961, Florida’s anti-riot laws were used to suppress activities threatening the state’s Jim Crow status quo.” DeSantis apparently considered such efforts commendable.
“What’s past is prologue,” Walker wrote. “Now this Court is faced with a new definition of ‘riot’ — one that the Florida Legislature created following a summer of nationwide protest for racial justice, against police violence and the murder of George Floyd and many other people of color, and in support of the powerful statement that Black lives matter.” He added, “The question before this Court is whether the new definition is constitutional.” Spoiler alert: It’s not, just as Jim Crow-era laws to prevent civil rights demonstrations were not constitutional.
As the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida explained, the anti-riot law “risks criminalizing peaceful protest and shields those who injure or kill protesters — for example, by ramming their vehicles into protesters — from civil penalties.”
DeSantis seems to have no fondness for the basic rights our Constitution confers on Americans. Instead, he delights in using state power to demonstrate his contempt for the expression of views he dislikes. This forms the core of his political brand, underscored by his “don’t say gay” law, his statute banning “critical race theory” in schools and his firing of a county prosecutor who criticized his abortion policies. DeSantis has also regularly flexed his power as governor: excluding media from events, taking public proceedings behind closed doors (including the selection of the University of Florida’s president) and exacting revenge on supposedly woke corporations such as Disney.
DeSantis’s contempt for dissent and his crackdown on critics should not be discounted. This is the profile of a constitutional ignoramus, a bully and a strongman. Voters should be forewarned.
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
Don't Blame Mental Illness, Blame Right Wing Hate
After the shooting at the LGBTQ Club Q in Colorado Springs, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), gun rights advocate and representative for her state’s 3rd Congressional District, tweeted the following: “The news out of Colorado Springs is absolutely awful. This morning the victims & their families are in my prayers.
In her tweet, Boebert left out the “news” that a lone gunman entered an LGBTQ space and began shooting, killing five and injuring at least 25. I’m betting Boebert did not mention these specifics because that would ruin her brand: the gun-toting, queer-hating, God-loving, outlaw whose job it is to own the liberals. If she had tweeted the specifics of the night and its tragic outcome, it might cause some of her followers to see LGBTQ people as human beings. And she can’t have that.
I don’t go to clubs and bars anymore. But when I was younger, queer spaces were a lifeline. They weren’t just bars; they were shelters where I could escape all the judgment of the world. All the Christians who seemed to delight in telling me that I was hell-bound. All the pressure to be a “real man.” All the pretending to be someone I wasn’t, just to fit into a social order that I didn’t understand. They were, in short, places where I felt free.
Everyone should have such a place. For heterosexual people, that place is the whole wide world. For heterosexual people, that place includes public parks and restaurants and any street they care to walk down, hand in hand. But LGBTQ people must find — or more accurately — create those spaces. And because of the shooting at Club Q, there is, for now, one fewer place for the queer community of Colorado Springs to go.
You know who will get the blame for Colorado Springs, right? Each time these things happen, the right-wing go-to is to blame “mental illness.” That’s what some thought drove Robert Bowers to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh to kill 11 human beings. That’s what others believed made Dylann Roof stroll into a Black church in Charleston, S.C., to murder nine human beings. And, sooner or later, conservatives will say it was “mental illness” that drove this newest killer of the marginalized to commit the latest atrocity.
But are we ever going to ask why so many supposedly mentally ill people seem to carry right-wing talking points along with their AR-15s?
It’s right-wing rhetoric that sparks these nightmares. And here’s the bonus for the instigators: The bottomless list of homophobes and transphobes on the right don’t need to throw the rock and then hide their hands. Instead, they use someone else’s hands entirely. After ginning up hatred for a particular community through fear, lies and conspiracies, all they have to do is sit back and wait for someone to do their work for them.
Boebert’s tweet about Colorado Springs on Sunday strikes a different note from the tweet she issued in August stating, “A ‘kid-friendly’ drag show in Texas was guarded by masked ANTIFA guards armed with AR-15′s. Remember, they only want YOUR guns. They want to use theirs to protect their depravity.”
So, the old “thoughts and prayers” line from Boebert on Sunday means little or nothing. And my guess is that she knows that. Boebert will continue, along with other conservatives, to spew the hate that gets the people they don’t like hurt and killed.
Nothing in politics is as effective as fear. And conservatives such as Boebert know exactly how to weaponize it. The conservative mind is more concerned that a drag queen is entering a classroom to read a story to children than a gunman is entering a classroom to shoot them. And I will never understand that.
Monday, November 21, 2022
Club Q Shooting Follows a Surge of Anti-LGBT Rhetoric and Laws
Details of the mass shooting in Colorado Springs continue to come in as authorities try to determine the shooter's motive. One thing is clear, however: Christofascist, neo-Nazi groups and, of course Republican legisators and candidates have all been ramping up anti-LGBT hysteria and disseminating old lies about gays being a threat to children and youths while calling supporters of LGBT rights "groomers" putting children at risk. Sadly, many of these politicians know what they are doing but put pandering to the ugly party base ahead of the lies and safety of other citizens. Meanwhile, the number of anti-gay bills being introduced - 320 last year - has exploded. Regardless of the shooter's motive when known, an atmosphere encouraging anti-LGBT violence is being encouraged and expanded. Some of these same Republican legisators who have been fanning anti-LGBT hatred have mouthed disingenuous sympathy for the shooting victims, yet continue their poisonous rhetoric and/or introduce more anti-gay and anti-transgender bills. A piece in the Washington Post looks at this frightening phenomenon. Here are highlights:
In the hours after the shooting, investigators did not say what led someone to open fire Saturday night in a Colorado gay bar, killing at least five people and injuring 25 others. But LGBTQ advocates across the country believe a surge of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and laws is at least partially to blame.
“When politicians and pundits keep perpetuating tropes, insults, and misinformation about the trans and LGBTQ+ community, this is a result,” Colorado Rep. Brianna Titone (D) tweeted Sunday.
Titone, Colorado’s first openly trans legislator, and the chair of the state’s LGBTQ legislative caucus, said anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, including one of her colleagues, have used hateful rhetoric to directly incite attacks against LGBTQ people.
[A]n independent analysis by the research group Crowd Counting Consortium shows that right-wing demonstrators have increasingly mobilized over the past year against the LGBTQ community.
Already this year, armed protesters and right-wing groups such as the Proud Boys have used intimidating tactics to disrupt drag-related events in Texas, Nevada and Oregon, as well as other states. Children’s hospitals across the United States are facing growing threats of violence, including bomb threats, driven by an online anti-LGBTQ campaign attacking the facilities for providing care to transgender kids and teens. And in October, a man attacked a transgender librarian in Idaho before yelling homophobic slurs and attempting to hit two women with his car.
Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research and training for the Human Rights Campaign, said Americans can’t, and shouldn’t, separate those acts of violence from state-sanctioned efforts to limit LGBTQ rights.
“We’ve seen more than 340 anti-LGBTQ bills filed this year alone,” Brown said. “We’ve seen a huge increase in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric online and by politicians, and we’ve seen real threats.”
In Colorado, for instance, Brown noted that Republican lawmaker and gun-rights activist Lauren Boebert has criticized drag in recent months, and in August, she warned “all the drag queens out there” to “stay away from the children in Colorado’s Third District!” Boebert has used slurs to describe transgender people, and she called the Equality Act gay “supremacy.” She also helped promote the idea that people who support LGBTQ adolescents are “groomers.”
“The level of fear that the community is feeling is real,” Brown said. “And many of our elected leaders actually bear some responsibility for creating a level of discourse that feeds that fear.”
On Sunday evening, Boebert expressed sympathy for the victims. . . . Other lawmakers, including Titone and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, said Boebert’s words were disingenuous.
“You spreading tropes and insults contributed to the hatred for us,” Titone tweeted. “There’s blood on your hands.”
According to Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director of the National Center of Transgender Equality, a quarter of those violent [transgender] deaths happened in Texas and Florida. Those states have proposed dozens of anti-trans laws and regulations in the past two years or put in place anti-trans policies, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to investigate parents for child abuse if they provide gender-affirming care for their children.
“Anti-trans legislation, fearmongering, and disinformation put the trans community and trans lives at risk,” Heng-Lehtinen tweeted.
Though Colorado has long been one of the country’s most LGBTQ-friendly states, recent attacks have escalated to a point where advocates say no place feels safe. Right-wing groups have, in fact, increasingly turned their attention toward liberal states. . . . “Every trans person who follows this has been warning this would happen. And here we are.”
Jessie Entwistle, of Colorado Springs, who was also at the vigil said he was in Orlando not long after the 2016 massacre at the Pulse night club, “so this all feels very familiar in a really sad way.”
“It feels like, ‘When is it going to happen to me?’ As opposed to thinking, ‘This kind of thing will never touch me.’ ”
I suspect every LGBT American who has frequented gay clubs is thinking to themself "that could have been me."
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Mass Shooting at Gay Club Kills At Least Five
"KRDO spoke with a man who was at Club Q roughly ten minutes before shots were fired. He was able to connect with one of his friends who was shot at the hospital. According to him, his friend said the shooter came into the nightclub and began firing. The friend said the suspect was wearing a mask and a vest of some sort. "
At least five people were killed and 18 injured late Saturday in a shooting at an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub in Colorado Springs, the police said early Sunday morning. A police spokeswoman said that the investigation was only beginning, and that the number of victims was subject to change. The injured were taken to several local hospitals, she said.
Here are the details:
· The police received an initial call about a shooting at the nightclub at 11:57 p.m., said Lt. Pamela Castro, the Colorado Springs Police Department spokeswoman. Officers entered the club and took into custody a person whom they believed to be the gunman. The suspect was also injured and was being treated at a hospital, Lieutenant Castro said.
· The F.B.I. said that it was also involved in the investigation, and several Colorado lawmakers condemned the shooting. Gov. Jared Polis indicated in a statement that “brave individuals” at the nightclub had “blocked the gunman,” although the authorities have not yet released details.
· In a statement on its Facebook page, Club Q said it was “devastated by the senseless attack on our community.” The club added, “We thank the quick reactions of heroic customers that subdued the gunman and ended this hate attack.”
· The shooting at Club Q had echoes of the 2016 massacre at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., when a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53
Colorado Springs, a city of about 500,000 people south of Denver, is a Republican stronghold and for decades was a center for conservative Christian efforts to pass laws limiting the rights of gay people. It has been home to a number of religious leaders with national platforms who have condemned homosexuality.
At the same time, the city has long had a small, but vibrant L.G.B.T.Q. community that supported a handful of small clubs, seemingly energized by a dominant surrounding culture that didn’t always welcome them.
Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado said in a statement that he was grateful to individuals who had “blocked the gunman, likely saving lives in the process” during Saturday’s shooting, echoing a statement by the nightclub on Facebook that “heroic customers” had subdued the gunman. The police have not disclosed details.
Senator John Hickenlooper, a Colorado Democrat, called the shooting “an unspeakable act.” He added: “We have to protect LGBTQ lives from this hate.” The authorities, who are expected to give an update in the next hour, have not publicly described a motive.
Club Q, an L.G.B.T.Q. nightclub about seven miles outside downtown Colorado Springs, had scheduled a musical drag brunch for Sunday morning. On Sunday evening, it was planning to celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance “with a variety of gender identities and performance styles” at an 8 p.m. show.
The attack late Saturday brought terror to a place that was, for many visitors, a refuge, a place to escape the hate, discrimination and violence often endured by L.G.B.T.Q. people outside its doors. Gay bars have long been havens for those exploring their identity, or simply seeking a space to be themselves without fear of not being accepted.
Is Justice Alito the Supreme Court Leaker?
As the Supreme Court investigates the extraordinary leak this spring of a draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a former anti-abortion leader has come forward claiming that another breach occurred in a 2014 landmark case involving contraception and religious rights.
In a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and in interviews with The New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck said he was told the outcome of the 2014 case weeks before it was announced. He used that information to prepare a public relations push, records show, and he said that at the last minute he tipped off the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain owned by Christian evangelicals that was the winning party in the case.
Both court decisions were triumphs for conservatives and the religious right. Both majority opinions were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. But the leak of the draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion was disclosed in the news media by Politico, setting off a national uproar. With Hobby Lobby, according to Mr. Schenck, the outcome was shared with only a handful of advocates.
Mr. Schenck’s allegation creates an unusual, contentious situation: a minister who spent years at the center of the anti-abortion movement, now turned whistle-blower; a denial by a sitting justice; and an institution that shows little outward sign of getting to the bottom of the recent leak of the abortion ruling or of following up on Mr. Schenck’s allegation.
The evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps. But in months of examining Mr. Schenck’s claims, The Times found a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public.
Mr. Schenck, who used to lead an evangelical nonprofit in Washington, said he learned about the Hobby Lobby opinion because he had worked for years to exploit the court’s permeability. He gained access through faith, through favors traded with gatekeepers and through wealthy donors to his organization, abortion opponents whom he called “stealth missionaries.”
The minister’s account comes at a time of rising concerns about the court’s legitimacy. A majority of Americans are losing confidence in the institution, polls show, and its approval ratings are at a historic low. Critics charge that the court has become increasingly politicized, especially as a new conservative supermajority holds sway.
In May, after the draft opinion in the abortion case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was leaked in what Justice Alito recently called “a grave betrayal,” the chief justice took the unusual step of ordering an investigation by the Supreme Court’s marshal. Two months later, Mr. Schenck sent his letter to Chief Justice Roberts, saying he believed his information about the Hobby Lobby case was relevant to the inquiry. He said he has not gotten any response.
In early June 2014, an Ohio couple who were Mr. Schenck’s star donors shared a meal with Justice Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann. A day later, Gayle Wright, one of the pair, contacted Mr. Schenck, according to an email reviewed by The Times. “Rob, if you want some interesting news please call. No emails,” she wrote. . . . Mr. Schenck said Mrs. Wright told him that the decision would be favorable to Hobby Lobby, and that Justice Alito had written the majority opinion. Three weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.
Justice Alito, in a statement issued through the court’s spokeswoman, denied disclosing the decision. He said that he and his wife shared a “casual and purely social relationship” with the Wrights, and did not dispute that the two couples ate together on June 3, 2014.
Mr. Schenck was not present at the meal and has no written record of his conversation with Mrs. Wright. But The Times interviewed four people who said he told them years ago about the breach, and emails from June 2014 show him suggesting he had confidential information and directing his staff to prepare for victory. In another email, sent in 2017, he described the disclosure as “one of the most difficult secrets I’ve ever kept in my life.”
The court deliberates about the fundamental rights of Americans — like access to contraception and abortion — behind closed doors. Mr. Schenck’s campaign offers insights into the court’s boundaries and culture, and into efforts to draw the justices closer to communities that are devoted to particular outcomes in critical cases.
Mr. Schenck recruited wealthy donors like Mrs. Wright and her husband, Donald, encouraging them to invite some of the justices to meals, to their vacation homes or to private clubs. He advised allies to contribute money to the Supreme Court Historical Society and then mingle with justices at its functions. He ingratiated himself with court officials who could help give him access, records show.
It is unclear if Mr. Schenck’s efforts had any impact on legal decisions, given that only Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas proved amenable to the outreach, records show, and they were already inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade. That decision was only reversed this year after the addition of new conservative justices altered the court’s ideological makeup. But Mr. Schenck said his aim was not to change minds, but rather to stiffen the resolve of the court’s conservatives in taking uncompromising stances that could eventually lead to a reversal of Roe.
Mr. Schenck, 64, has shifted his views on abortion in recent years, alienating him from many of his former associates, and is trying to re-establish himself, now as a progressive evangelical leader. His decision to speak out now about the Hobby Lobby episode, he said, stems from his regret about the actions that he claims led to his advance knowledge about the case.
“What we did,” he said, “was wrong.”
Justices are given lifetime appointments to promote independence and buffer them from lobbying and politicking. But Mr. Schenck wanted the conservatives on the court to hear from people who would hail them as heroes if they seized the opportunity to strike down Roe one day. The goal, he said in an interview, was to “embolden the justices” to lay the legal groundwork for an eventual reversal by delivering “unapologetically conservative dissents.”
Mr. Schenck has recounted some aspects of his initiative to Politico and Rolling Stone. But he has spoken exclusively with The Times about the alleged Hobby Lobby breach and provided far more detail and documentation about his efforts — including correspondence with donors, anti-abortion activists, court officials and justices.
To remain as close to the court as possible, Mr. Schenck purchased a building across the street and began working the court’s employees.
One of his targets was Perry Thompson, an administrator. Mr. Schenck befriended him by preaching at a church where Mr. Thompson served as pastor in his spare time. He leaned on Mr. Thompson to get coveted seats for oral arguments and decision days. In characteristically hyperbolic fashion, Mr. Schenck described him in a fund-raising appeal as “God’s ‘secret agent’” at the court. Mr. Thompson did not respond to requests for comment.
He also encouraged his donors to become patrons of the court’s Historical Society. Four of them, including the Wrights, became trustees, giving at least an estimated $125,000, records show.
That helped him draw close to the society’s executive director, David T. Pride. In November 2011, Mr. Pride took Mr. Green of Hobby Lobby to the chief justice’s annual Christmas party at Mr. Schenck’s request. In an email, Mr. Schenck described Mr. Green’s parents, already Faith and Action donors, as potential big givers to the society: “Family is worth about $3b.”
Mr. Pride responded, saying he would escort Mr. Green into the party. He added: “We should consult about what you might like me to promote on your behalf to Mr. Green.
Supreme Court justices mostly police themselves, which Mr. Schenck said he exploited. While they are subject to the same law on recusals as other federal judges, they are not bound by the ethics code that applies to the rest. (Chief Justice Roberts has said they “consult” it.) Under court norms, they can socialize with lawyers or even parties with interests before them, as long as they do not discuss pending cases.
“I saw us as pushing the boundaries of appropriateness,” Mr. Schenck said.
Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said in an interview that because the court’s reputation was essential to its institutional legitimacy, justices must take care to “appear to be playing a different role than politicians.” Meeting with a well-known anti-abortion activist could create the appearance that the “person is getting a private opportunity to lobby the justice.”
Kaitlynn Rivera, who worked for Faith and Action from 2013 to 2015, confirmed many details Mr. Schenck provided, including about the donor couples and his relationships at the court. To supporters, the minister boasted about his group’s connections, but he regularly warned them to keep quiet because he “knew the public at large would be upset by that kind of access,” she said in an interview.
The [Dobbs] ruling this year thrilled anti-abortion supporters, though it has proved deeply unpopular among the majority of Americans. After the draft was leaked, Mr. Schenck said, he felt compelled to come forward about his attempts to influence the court.
“You can position yourself in a special category with regard to the Justices,” he said. “You can gain access, have conversations, share prayer.”
Even when his group was most active at the court, he said, “I would look up at that phrase that’s chiseled into the building itself, ‘Equal Justice Under Law,’” he recalled. “I would think, ‘Not really.’”
Democracy’s Dunkirk - The Danger Isn't Over
The authoritarians at home and abroad have faced some reversals, but Americans should consider the midterm elections as only a respite. Liberal democracy remains in danger in the United States and around the world.
November has been a good month for democracy. Brazil’s autocratic president, Jair Bolsonaro, authorized the transfer of power after losing in national elections to a left-wing challenger. Russia’s murderous army is literally on the run in Ukraine. And American voters went to the polls and defied both history and expectation: They left the Senate in the hands of Democrats, gave the House to the Republicans by only a tiny majority, and crushed the electoral aspirations of a ragtag coalition of election deniers, Christian nationalists, and general weirdos.
That’s the good news. But as relieved as I am that some of my darkest worries did not come to pass last week, democracy is still in danger. What happened last week was an important electoral victory that allows all of us to fight another day—specifically, two years from now. Without the defeat of the deniers in 2022, the 2024 elections would likely have fallen into chaos and perhaps even violence. Both are still possibilities.
Think of last week as American democracy’s Dunkirk: an improvised but crucial escape from disaster. . . . . If you’re fuzzy on your 20th-century history, Dunkirk was the beach in France where the Nazis trapped retreating Allied forces, mostly hundreds of thousands of British troops, after the fall of France in 1940. Had these units been destroyed, the United Kingdom might well have faced the prospect of surrender to Nazi Germany. Instead, the Germans hesitated to close the noose, and nearly 350,000 men were evacuated to Britain by a flotilla composed mostly of civilian volunteers, a miraculous feat that protected Britain from invasion and bought time until the American entry into the war.
Like Dunkirk, the midterms were a necessary, but not final, victory. The old saw about “the most important election in our lifetime” turned out to be true this time: Without multiple defeats of the worst state and federal candidates in recent history, the unraveling of American democracy would have accelerated and the security of future elections would be in doubt, at least in the states captured by the election deniers and their associated charlatans.
If you want a vision of what such a nightmare might look like, imagine a close election in 2024. Battleground states are counting ballots with armed people swarming around election sites and state offices. Arizona Governor Kari Lake, Pennsylvania Governor Doug Mastriano, and Wisconsin Governor Tim Michels are all frantically calling and texting one another on Election Night, and ordering their state institutions to hold off on finalizing the results. Meanwhile, Arizona Secretary of State Mark Finchem (a former member of the Oath Keepers) reaches out to his like-minded counterparts—Jim Marchant in Nevada, Kristina Karamo in Michigan—to ensure that none of them will certify Democratic wins, perhaps in hopes of flipping the decision to their legislatures or sympathetic judges.
Fortunately, all of these people were soundly defeated—except for Lake, who lost in a squeaker and, true to form, still refuses to concede to Democrat Katie Hobbs. But among them, they garnered millions of votes. These 2022 losers and other, similar candidates are still out there, and they will all continue their best efforts (as Lake is demonstrating) to corrode the foundations of our constitutional order.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. . . . . Trump’s 2024 candidacy confronts us, once and for all, with a decision about what kind of country we are. I hope that the Republicans deny him their nomination . . . . But I have no faith in the regenerative power of a party that has devolved into an anti-constitutional, violent movement led by cowards and opportunists. Especially because the current crop of possible GOP contenders is just another collection of poltroons and Trump imitators; the Republican primaries are likely only to replace one authoritarian cult leader with another.
American democracy’s Dunkirk means that the danger to the 2024 election from chicanery and outright attack, both political and physical, is much lower now than even a month ago. Turnout in 2022 was high, as midterms go, but not high enough, particularly—and as usual—among young voters . . . . And we’re stuck for years to come with some truly odious candidates who managed to get past the voters. (I am, of course, speaking of J. D. Vance here, among others.) The Kari Lakes and the Tudor Dixons will resurface in two years. If we are going to turn them back once and for all, we must not underestimate their resentment and will to power. We know who they are; we must decide who we are.