Law

The Dead End That Is Public Opinion

If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)
As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear . I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument: See, the problem here is equating "90 percent in the polls" with "calling for change." Sure, 90 percent of citizens, or registered voters, or whoever it is will answer in the affirmative if they're asked by a pollster about this policy. But that's not at all the same as "calling for change." It's more like...well, it is receiving a call. Not calling. Those people who have been pushing for marriage equality? They were...

Gay-Marriage Opponents, Left Behind

The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie
The American Prospect/Jamelle Bouie O utside of the Supreme Court this week—where the nine justices were hearing oral arguments about the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage—a young woman and an old woman were arguing. "If you put all the gay people on an island," began the older woman, who looked to be in her fifties. "See, this is why people think you guys are like the KKK!" interjected the young woman. "You're talking about rounding us all up—" "Let me finish! If you put all the gay people on an island, in a generation there would be no gay people. They would die out." "That's not a realistic scenario. We all live in this country together." The older woman was nonplussed. After fielding a few more hypotheticals—How would you feel if your son or daughter were gay? What about the separation of church and state?—it became clear she was not going home convinced, and the two parted ways. America, on the other hand, has gone home convinced. The about-face in public...

Cops Gone Wild

Bad cops will keep sexually assaulting women they’re sworn to protect until we get stronger laws and better data on the number of victims.

flickr/brendangates
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad new—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun. That scared her enough that she immediately reported what he’d done to the police, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Another four years passed before the department arrested Skweres and suspended him without pay, and then only because he tried to rape a woman while on duty. By that time, Smith had moved out of the city for fear of running into him again. Three other women told stories similar to Smith’s, and on March 11 Skewers pled guilty to bribery...

Cops Gone Wild

Bad cops will keep sexually assaulting women they’re sworn to protect until we get stronger laws and better data on the number of victims.

flickr/brendangates
When 20-year-old Sarah Smith got into an accident with a motorcyclist in 2008, it was nothing but bad news—she was driving with a suspended license. It got worse. When police showed up, officer Adam Skweres took Smith aside and implied that he could either make it look like the accident was her fault or give the other party a ticket. It depended on whether she’d agree to perform unspecified sexual favors. Skweres also threatened that if she told anyone, he’d “make sure you never walk, talk, or speak again,” and looked at his gun. That scared her enough that she immediately reported what he’d done to the police, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Another four years passed before the department arrested Skweres and suspended him without pay, and then only because he tried to rape a woman while on duty. By that time, Smith had moved out of the city for fear of running into him again. Three other women told stories similar to Smith’s, and on March 11 Skewers pleaded guilty to...

States' Rights > Gay Rights

AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster B y now you've heard from the various news sources that, in this week’s Supreme Court arguments on California's Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, a majority of justices expressed skepticism over both. So it's imaginable—even probable, if you believe the news—that we will find ourselves at the end of June with DOMA in the junk pile and marriage equality back on the books in California. But don't put the pink champagne on ice just yet. In both days of argument, the justices spent an extraordinary amount of time dealing with knotty procedural issues. Both cases are complicated by the fact that the executive officers who usually defend laws in court (the governor and state attorney general for Prop. 8, the president and U.S. attorney general for DOMA) have no stomach for such defense, since they think the laws they’d be defending are unconstitutional. So as the nation anticipated a debate over the importance and meaning of marriage, the Court had a...

Oppressed Christians and Second-Class Citizenship

A gay lion prepares to set upon a group of Christians.
With all this talk of gay people marrying one another, some people on the right are starting to bleat about how they're being oppressed for their Christian beliefs—so oppressed, in fact, that they're starting to feel like "second-class citizens." Here's CBN's David Brody lamenting the sorrows of Kirk Cameron and Tim Tebow. Here's Red State's Erik Erikson predicting the coming pogrom ("Within a year or two we will see Christian schools attacked for refusing to admit students whose parents are gay. We will see churches suffer the loss of their tax exempt status for refusing to hold gay weddings. We will see private businesses shut down because they refuse to treat as legitimate that which perverts God’s own established plan."). Here's Fox News commentator Todd Starnes on the oppression that has already begun ("it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage"). And how is this second-class citizenship being thrust upon them...

Asked and Answered

Flickr/Ted Eytan
Flickr/Ted Eytan The scene outside the Supreme Court yesterday I t’s a strange thing, living on the cusp of social change—miraculous and dizzying. Ten years ago to the day, on March 26, 2003, I sat in the tiny hallway that functions as the Supreme Court’s press gallery, off to the justices’ right, trying to hear the oral arguments in Lawrence v. Texas, the case in which the Supreme Court—years after the rest of the developed world—knocked down the country’s 13 remaining anti-sodomy laws. Yesterday morning, I sat there again to hear the justices consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, written into the state constitution by Proposition 8. I’ve spent my adult life writing about LGBT issues; back in the mid-1990s, I was the first lesbian to write broadly in favor of same-sex marriage, and in 1999 I published a book explaining how same-sex couples fit into marriage’s shifting historical definition. I'm going to ask you—especially if you’re not gay—to...

Privacy, Property, and the Drug War

WikiMedia Commons
While it is likely to attract little attention given today's epochal same-sex marriage arguments, the Supreme Court decided an important Fourth Amendment case on Tuesday. For the second time this year , the Supreme Court issued a ruling in a case involving drug-sniffing dog. This time, however, the Court did not allow the Fourth Amendment to be trumped by the War On (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs. Jardines v. Florida involved a home search that uncovered marijuana plants, leading to a conviction. The police received an unverified tip that marijuana was being grown in Jardines's residence, but presumably did not believe that this tip was sufficient to establish the "probable case" required by the Fourth Amendment to obtain a search warrant. To obtain a warrant, the police took a drug-sniffing dog, who indicated that it had found the scent of illegal drugs. The findings of the dog's actions were used to obtain a search warrant to search Jardines's house, which led to the...

The Unending Terror of the Red-State Democrat

An image from a new ad advocating universal background checks for gun purchases.
Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg's engagement as "reckless" and "insane," but what's so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners. And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand...

Gay Rights, There and Back Again

Flickr/Chris Phan
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez Demonstrators chant during a rally against Proposition 8 outside City Hall in San Francisco, March 4, 2009. The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of the ban this week. T omorrow, I’m going to the Supreme Court to hear a bunch of lawyers debate the status of my marriage. Do I have a right to be married? Am I married just in Massachusetts, or in the United States at large? Simply attending the arguments feels like a high point in my career: I’ve written about and followed LGBT issues, and marriage in particular, for most of my adult life. I still remember sitting at my cousin’s wedding in 1993 when someone told me about the trial-court win in Baehr v. Lewin , the Hawaii marriage lawsuit that kicked off the past twenty years of marriage organizing. Before that, marriage hadn’t occurred to me—or many of us, back in the day—as something I could have. By 2003, I knew that we would win it, and in my lifetime. This will be...

Another Court Nominee Down

WikiMedia Commons
Last Friday afternoon, the Obama administration surrendered on its latest attempt to fill one of four vacancies on the nation's second most-important court. Caitlin Halligan, facing a Republican filibuster, officially withdrew from consideration for a judgeship on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is not surprising or unexpected. Halligan, who was nominated to fill the seat vacated by Chief Justice John Roberts, had seen her nomination languish since 2010. The successful filibuster that snuffed Halligan's nomination early this March represents another example of why real reform or (better yet) elimination of the filibuster is desperately needed. The filibustering of Halligan is striking, even in the context of an utterly dysfunctional Senate, for two reasons. First, Halligan is a mainstream nominee , with broad support for her credentials and temperament from across the political spectrum. And second, Obama is the first president in at least 50 years not to get a single nominee...

The Super-Sexy Case Against Gay Marriage

When I get that feelin', I need Supreme Court amicus briefs.
Three years ago, in a column titled "It's Not You, It's Me," I noted that a rhetorical shift had occurred among opponents of gay rights. In earlier times, there was lots of talk about the immorality of homosexuality and how depraved gay people were, but now those sentiments have become marginalized. For more mainstream spokespeople, the argument against same-sex marriage is not about gay people at all but about straight people. The problem with same-sex marriage, they say, is the effect gay people's marriages will have on straight people's marriages. What that effect will be, they can't precisely say, but they're sure it'll be bad. Similarly, when we argued (briefly) about repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, their claims were not about whether gay soldiers could do their jobs, but whether their presence would make straight soldiers uncomfortable. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on cases challenging California's Proposition 8, which outlawed gay marriage...

The New Gay-Rights Frontier

Flickr/Stéfan
A s the Supreme Court prepares to take its first serious look at the issue of same-sex marriage—with oral arguments set to begin March 26 in back-to-back challenges to California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act—gay-rights activists and their supporters in the New Jersey Legislature are quietly advancing their fight for LGBT equality on a separate front, with a concerted push to undermine the practice of controversial gay conversion therapy in the state. Polls show that public support for legalizing gay marriage has hit an all-time high, with 58 percent of Americans—including a growing number of Republicans—now in favor of granting same-sex couples the rights and benefits enjoyed by their heterosexual counterparts. But even the staunchest of activists recognize that victory for marriage rights in Washington will be but an incremental step on the road to equality for a community that has been consistently denied equal protection under the law. Consider that only 18...

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong. But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually...

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