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President Barack Obama speaks about recent unrest in Baltimore during his joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on April 28, 2015, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

'Don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns'

04/28/15 03:07PM

As violence erupted in Baltimore last night, President Obama spoke directly with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the White House issued a statement stressing "the administration's commitment to provide assistance as needed."
 
Today, however, the president had quite a bit more to say on the subject.
President Obama said there was "no excuse" for the violent rioting Monday on the streets of Baltimore, which saw looting and fires break out after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a severe spinal injury while in police custody a little over a week ago. At the same time, the president put the crisis in Maryland's largest city into a national context, focusing on unemployment, poverty and the education gap that plagues some communities of color.
 
"We can't just leave this to the police," Obama said Tuesday in a White House press conference with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "There are some police departments that have to do some searching. There are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But our country needs to do some soul searching. This is not new. It's been going on for decades."
Obama, speaking without prepared remarks on the subject, acknowledged that he feels "pretty strongly" about the subject. It showed.
 
For those who can't watch clips online, the president's remarks are worth reading in detail. Note, for example, the way in which the president focuses initially on specific developments in Baltimore before transitioning to a much broader context:

Supreme Court sounds skeptical note on marriage equality

04/28/15 12:56PM

Experienced court watchers tend to agree: predicting the outcome of Supreme Court cases based solely on oral arguments is problematic. Justices often play devil's advocate; they think out loud from the bench; and they challenge attorneys on points they already find persuasive, just to see how they'll respond.
 
That said, many who heard this morning's arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges came away with the impression that the high court's conservatives were skeptical of marriage equality. NBC News' Pete Williams reported:
The conservatives were joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a swing vote, who asked whether the public and scholars need more time to debate changes to a practice that has been understood as between a man and a woman for centuries.
 
"It's very difficult for the court to say, 'We know better,'" Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples, according to The Associated Press.
This is no small detail. Kennedy, considered the key swing justice in this case, reportedly emphasized historical norms, suggesting that proponents of marriage equality want to change an institution that has lasted for a "millennia."
 
Chief Justice John Roberts, whom progressives also hoped to persuade, stressed a similar point, reportedly telling supporters of equal-marriage rights, "If you succeed, [the traditional definition of marriage] will not be operable. You are not seeking to join the institution. You are seeking to change the institution." He added, "[I]f you prevail here, there will be no more debate. The debate will close minds, and it will have consequence on how this new institution is accepted."
 
According to the New York Times' report, Justice Samuel Alito wondered aloud whether marriage between same-sex couples would lead to groups of four people getting married, while Justice Antonin Scalia said some clergy might be forced to perform wedding ceremonies against their will.
 
Not to put too fine a point on this, but these are lazy, ridiculous arguments. Supreme Court standards have fallen, but this is cheap nonsense, even from far-right justices. It should be obvious, for example, that marriage equality is fundamentally different from polygamy. It should be equally obvious that there's literally nothing to suggest clergy would be forced to do anything, ever -- and over a decade after same-sex marriages began in the United States, there are still zero examples of religious leaders being compelled to officiate any union.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 4.28.15

04/28/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* Hillary Clinton hasn't made public comments about developments in Baltimore, but on Twitter, the Democratic candidate said last night, "Tonight I am praying for peace & safety for all in Baltimore, & for Freddie Gray's family - his death is a tragedy that demands answers."
 
* Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), a likely Clinton rival, cut short a series of paid speeches abroad to return to his hometown of Baltimore today. O'Malley was the city's mayor for seven years before getting elected governor.
 
* Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said over the weekend that he considers a so-called right-to-work policy a "legitimate" national goal (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
 
* Despite the Iraq war's ongoing popularity among Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told a group of about 30 Orthodox Jewish leaders in New York yesterday that he believes it was a "mistake" to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
 
* We're only about six months out from Louisiana's gubernatorial race, and Democrats haven't yet rallied behind a candidate. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D) announced yesterday he will not seek statewide office this year.
People wait in line for as many as four days to get a seat in the gallery to watch arguments in the same-sex marriage case Obergefell v. Hodges, at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 27, 2015. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

An expensive seat at the Supreme Court

04/28/15 11:34AM

Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said this morning that Americans "should not have to camp out for days" simply to watch historic arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court. He raises a good point that much of the country may not know anything about.
 
There are about 400 seats in the Supreme Court's main chamber, but most are reserved for journalists, members of the court bar, and guests of the justices. In many instances, only about a fourth of the seats are available to the public, and they're distributed on a first-come-first-served basis.
 
So, if you want to literally have a seat to witness history in the making, you'll have to be prepared to wait a long time. How long? The line for today's argument on marriage equality started taking shape last week.
 
But as a practical matter, most of the folks who want to attend oral arguments don't literally want to wait outside the building for 96 hours straight. As Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern explained, they don't have to -- they simply pay someone else to do it.
Starting Friday, if you or your law firm had $6,000 to shell out, a paid proxy—a company such as LineStanding.com or Washington Express—would arrange to have someone hold your place in line. The fact that some of these line-standers appear to be either very poor or homeless and may have to stand in rain, snow, sleet, or hail so that you don't have to irks at least some people who feel that thousands of dollars shouldn't be the fee to bear witness to "Equal Justice Under the Law" -- the words etched over the door to the Supreme Court building -- in action.
 
As former Rep. Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, told the Caucus blog two years ago, the problem of wealthy lawyers paying poor people to suffer in the cold on their behalf would be remedied almost instantly if the court would allow its hearings to be televised.
That's true. This morning, there were roughly 70 seats available for the public. Lithwick and Stern went to the line yesterday morning and counted 67 people.
 
One woman, who'd been there since Sunday, told them, "Let's pay the poor black guys to hold the line for the rich white people."
Donald Trump speaks at an event in Manchester, N.H., April 12, 2014. (Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Trump thinks he can 'fix' Baltimore 'fast'

04/28/15 10:50AM

The violence in Baltimore, in many instances, has brought out some people's best instincts. There was no shortage of locals last night trying to maintain some semblance of stability, just as there were many residents on the streets this morning, engaged in a clean-up effort, literally sweeping up the ashes after a night of unrest.
 
But in the world of politics, developments in Baltimore have, in at least a few instances, also put some unfortunate instincts on display. Media Matters, for example, flagged some conservative television personalities who, during last night's violence, were quick to blame President Obama and his administration for the riots.
 
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol is already thinking about how the violence could be exploited by the Republican Party as a possible campaign theme. "Winning GOP message: Against anarchy & chaos, at home & abroad," Kristol said on Twitter. He added that he'd like to see a "Cheney-Giuliani 2016" ticket. "[I]f not them, who?"
 
And then, of course, there's Donald Trump.
As Baltimore erupted with rioting Monday night, presidential hopeful Donald Trump took to Twitter to air his opinions, which many users deemed racist and insensitive.
 
"Our great African American President hasn't exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!" he tweeted.
Wait, it gets a little worse.
Voting booths are illuminated by sunlight as voters cast their ballots at a polling place on Nov. 6, 2012. (Photo by Jae C. Hong/AP)

Top Senate Republican rejects call for voting-rights fix

04/28/15 10:00AM

It was just last month when much of the nation's attention turned to Selma, Alabama, where Americans saw former President George W. Bush stand and applaud a call for Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act with a bipartisan bill. Many wondered if, maybe sometime soon, Congress' Republican majority might agree to tackle the issue.
 
Voting-rights advocates probably shouldn't hold their breath. Soon after the event honoring those who marched at the Edmund Pettus Bridge a half-century ago, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the very idea of working on the issue. "I think Eric Holder and this administration have trumped up and created an issue where there really isn't one," the Texas Republican said.
 
Asked if Congress should repair the Voting Rights Act formula struck down by the Supreme Court, Cornyn replied, simply, "No."
 
Yesterday at the National Press Club, another key GOP senator echoed the sentiment.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Monday he doesn't expect to bring up legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, because lots of minority people are already voting. [...]
 
"It depends on what you want to fix," he said. "If you want to fix more minorities voting, more minorities are already voting."
The Iowa Republican said the "original intent" of the Voting Rights Act is no longer applicable because "in the last 50 years, it's made great progress."
 
As a factual matter, it's true that lots of voters from minority communities vote. It's also true that the nation has made "great progress" as compared to a half-century ago.
 
But given every relevant detail, Grassley's posture is tough to defend.
U.S. Senator Warren talks with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Kagan and Sotomayor as Justice Breyer looks on before U.S. President Obama's State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington

The laughable calls for high-court recusals

04/28/15 09:20AM

Nine U.S. Supreme Court justices will hear oral arguments this morning in a case that may bring marriage equality to the United States, but if some conservatives had their way, only seven justices would be in the chamber today.
 
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, among many others, has been pushing for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan to recuse themselves because they've officiated same-sex weddings. Yesterday, it was even the basis for some far-right activism.
Standing on the steps of the Supreme Court, Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries, told reporters he's filing a motion with the Supreme Court calling for the recusal of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
 
[Lively] and more than a dozen leaders of anti-gay-marriage groups stood behind a wall of empty cardboard filing boxes stacked on the steps of the court on Monday morning. The boxes -- 60 in all -- were there to "symbolically" represent 300,000 restraining orders that Faith2Action President Janet Porter said will be delivered to the Supreme Court and to Congress to keep the justices from ruling on gay marriage.
Just so we're clear, these aren't actual "restraining orders," so much as they're props created by anti-gay groups looking for a way to get far-right activists engaged.
 
Of course, the fact that opponents of marriage equality have been reduced to making arguments with boxes that are literally empty was, in fact, "symbolic" -- though probably not in the way conservatives intended.
 
Not surprisingly, the push failed -- Ginsburg and Kagan will be on the bench this morning -- but what's especially interesting about the hullabaloo is the right's selective standards.
Microphones are set up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington on Jan. 13, 2014.

Marriage equality gets its day in court

04/28/15 08:40AM

The question was never whether the U.S. Supreme Court would weigh in on marriage equality; the question was when the justices would resolve the dispute. Many expected the high court to take up the issue last fall, but it declined. Three appellate courts -- the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits -- had already cleared the way for same-sex marriages in much of the country, and soon after the high court took a pass, the 9th Circuit reached the same conclusion. With so much unanimity, the justices took a pass.
 
But when the 6th Circuit went the other way, the Supreme Court effectively had no choice but to intervene. It set the stage for today's historic oral arguments. Emma Margolin reported overnight:
It will be history in the making in the nation's capital Tuesday when the Supreme Court hears arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which is widely expected to bring marriage equality to all 50 states. [...]
 
Before the high court now are two questions: Does the 14th Amendment require states to license a marriage between two people of the same sex, and does that same amendment require a state to recognize legally valid same-sex marriages performed elsewhere? If the answer to each ends up being "yes," marriage equality will become law of the land. If the answer is "no," the country's remaining 14 same-sex marriage bans will survive, while the effort to reinstate fallen bans will revive.
Civil-rights supporters are cautiously optimistic about their chances. Remember, it was this same court that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act two years ago, effectively creating the legal tidal wave that washed away bans on same-sex marriage in most of the country.
 
The Obergefell v. Hodges case serves as the justices' opportunity to finish the job and extend equal-marriage rights to Americans nationwide. Tom Goldstein, a lawyer who's argued several times before the Supreme Court, told NBC News earlier this year, "It's impossible to overstate the historic significance of a decision on such a fundamental piece of our social fabric."
A rioter stands atop a burning car as another man pours fuel onto the fire while Baltimore firefighters behind them fight fires in mutliple burning buildings set ablaze by rioters during clashes in Baltimore, Md., April 27, 2015. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

The morning after in Baltimore

04/28/15 08:00AM

Violence erupted in Baltimore, Maryland, last night, with local law enforcement making dozens of arrests following riots that began late yesterday afternoon. MSNBC's Trymaine Lee and Anna Brand report this morning on where things stand following a night of unrest.
Officers in Downtown Baltimore took position on many corners as the sun came up Tuesday morning following a night of violent unrest that led to a state of emergency and the activation of the National Guard by the Maryland governor.
 
Thousands of schoolkids won't be in public school as a mass of officers and National Guard troops spread over the 80-square-mile area here with many concerned with a repeat of Monday evening. A city curfew will go into effect tonight at 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., and will be in effect for a week, and extended as necessary.
The event that helped trigger the unrest was the recent death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was arrested on a weapons charge two weeks ago, but who died a week later. According to family attorneys, Gray's death was the result of a severed spine, which local officials have not yet explained.
 
That said, I hope it's obvious that a city does not descend into chaotic violence like the rioting we saw in Baltimore because of one case of alleged abuse. There are systemic conditions at play.
 
In addition to looting and fires, several police officers were injured in Baltimore overnight, but officials told news outlets that each of the officers are expected to recover.

Baltimore cleans up and other headlines

04/28/15 07:33AM

Baltimore cleans up as the National Guard troops arrive. (AP)

Maryland Governor cancels events today to address Baltimore rioting. (Baltimore Sun)

Fmr. Gov. and possible presidential hopeful Martin O'Malley cuts short a trip abroad amid unrest in his state. (Washington Post)

More looting overnight. (Washington Post)

Ta-Nehisi Coates: nonviolence as compliance. (The Atlantic)

Why is the rising death toll in the Nepal earthquake still lower than predictions? (New York Times)

Supreme Court gay marriage case reunites hometown opponents. (USA Today)

5th Circuit to hear Texas voter ID appeal today. (Houston Chronicle)

Groups want review of Shell's Arctic regulatory filings. (AP)

Rand Paul calls Saddam Hussein's ouster a 'mistake' and Qaddafi's a 'disaster.' (New York Times)

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