One after another, lawsuits were setting them up and courts were knocking them down. Following last year's Supreme Court ruling that rejected the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, state and federal courts nationwide have ruled against gay marriage bans from coast to coast. It was a remarkable, uninterrupted streak of success for civil-rights proponents, spanning more than two dozen courts.
Yesterday, however, we learned that the streak was broken.
For the first time in nearly fourteen months, a state's ban on same-sex marriage has withstood a constitutional challenge in court. A state judge in Tennessee ruled last week that "neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state's responsibility." The decision, issued last Tuesday, has just become available in electronic format.
Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons, Jr., of Kingston ruled in a case of two gay men who were married four years ago in Iowa and are now seeking a divorce in their home state of Tennessee. Unlike every other court ruling -- federal or state -- since the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, the judge rejected the idea that the Windsor decision undercut state authority to ban same-sex marriages.
As Lyle Denniston's report added, "Although Judge Simmons's decision was limited to cases involving a divorce when the marriage itself is not recognized, he ruled in sweeping terms," relying in party on a 1972 ruling on Minnesota's former ban on same-sex marriage.
The streak may be over, though it's probably worth noting that the streak among federal courts remains intact.
Supporters of marriage equality took the Tennessee ruling in stride. "Inevitably the Supreme Court of the United States will have to be the ultimate decider on this issue, and so far they have nineteen federal court rulings to look to that say these discriminatory marriage bans are unconstitutional," Human Rights Campaign press secretary Charles Joughin said.
There is, however, another court case on the horizon for both sides to watch with interest.
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:
* It's Primary Day in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. And while there are no major statewide contests, there are a few races to keep an eye on.
* In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) may be unpopular, but his lead over Allison Lundergran Grimes (D) appears to be getting slightly bigger. PPP now shows the incumbent up, 44% to 40%, with Libertarian David Patterson getting 7% support.
* In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) wants Sen. Mark Begich (D) to pull his ad showing them smiling and telling viewers they usually vote together. Begich, at least for now, is ignoring the request. "I think it's very factual -- 80 percent of the time, we vote together," he said on msnbc yesterday.
* In response to a court order, Florida's Republican-led legislature approved a new congressional map last night and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott (R) for his signature. It didn't change much, so whether it will pass judicial muster is unclear.
* In Hawaii, voters in two precincts who were unable to cast ballots over the weekend will now be able to vote this Friday, Aug. 15. The tallies may affect the U.S. Senate primary, though appointed incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz (D) appears to have the edge.
* The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is buying airtime in Staten Island, hoping to push scandal-plagued Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) closer to defeat.
* Speaking of New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) support has weakened a bit following his Moreland Commission controversy, but a new Siena poll still shows him with a 32-point lead over his Republican challenger.
The birther website WorldNetDaily is not exactly celebrating President Obama's birthday [last] week, insisting that since his birth certificate is fake, he probably is lying about how old he is, too.
In his column yesterday, "Obama Turned 53 -- Or Did He?," Jack Cashill writes that Obama is not telling the truth about not only his birth place, but also about the year he was born. The WorldNetDaily reporter cites a 2007 speech Obama delivered in Selma, Alabama, about how his "existence might not have been possible had it not been for some of the folks here today." Obama was born in 1961, while the Selma to Montgomery march occurred in 1965.
Sure, common sense suggests the president was talking about the civil rights movement in general, not literally the events in Selma four years after he was born, but why give him the benefit of the doubt, right?
There's obviously no way to take such nonsense seriously, but that's not why I'm mentioning it. Rather, every time I come across some unintentionally funny story about WorldNetDaily conspiracy theories -- I'm still shaking my head over the "blood moon" story from April -- I'm reminded of the fact that some in Congress actually consider this website credible.
The Republican message on impeachment is something of a mess. For every GOP leader who dismisses such talk as a Democratic "scam," there are two more Republicans taking the idea seriously. For example, in Alaska last week, two GOP Senate candidates touched on the idea -- and the more credible of the two, former state Attorney General Dan Sullivan, said he would take impeachment "very, very seriously" if elected and "would focus on it" if it reached the Senate.
So much for the notion of a Democratic "scam."
Mike Huckabee is further helping exemplify the confusion. Last week, the former Arkansas governor said President Obama "absolutely" deserves to be impeached, adding there's "no doubt that he has done plenty of things worthy of impeachment." And then over the weekend, Huckabee added, "Let me be very clear. I never said he should be impeached."
While Republicans work on sorting this out, some of their brethren are prepared to move on -- not to other issues, but to other executive-branch officials they'd like to see impeached.
Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) doesn't want conservatives to try to impeach President Obama, but he supports targeting Attorney General Eric Holder.
"It is clear, with the Harry Reid Senate, impeachment of the president is not going anywhere," Cruz told National Review Online during an interview at the 2014 RedState Gathering in Fort Worth, Texas. "If the House of Representatives were to impeach the attorney general, that process would shine much needed light on the indefensible abuse of power by the attorney general," he says.
And what, pray tell, is the evidence of Eric Holder abusing his power? Cruz says he's still outraged by the IRS "scandal," a controversy that evaporated a year ago when no one could find any evidence of wrongdoing by anyone. The far-right senator nevertheless suspects Holder of "obstruction of justice" for reasons he has not been able to explain.
(Others on the far-right have different targets in mind. Rep. Michele Bachmann last week raised the prospect of impeaching Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.)
Leading Republican lawmakers have struggled in recent months to defend Congress' record of ineptitude. As a simple matter of arithmetic, the last Congress was the least productive since clerks started keeping track nearly a century ago -- and the current Congress is significantly worse.
As we talked about last week, the GOP explanation for this has evolved over time. About a year ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried pure denial, saying it's "total nonsense" to say Congress is having a "historically unproductive" term. Soon after, Boehner switched gears, acknowledging reality, but saying failure is a good thing: Congress "ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal," he said, not by how many laws actually pass.
But as lawmakers' August recess enters its second week, the Republican line has clearly changed once more. Now the right is wholly invested in the notion that the GOP-led House is a law-passing machine, but it's that rascally Democratic Senate that's the problem. Reader Jamie McCarthy flagged thisNational Review piece, which echoed the new Republican talking points nicely.
This notion of a "do-nothing Congress" is yet another Democrat fabrication. In fact, America has a Republican Do-Lots House and a Democratic Do-Little Senate.
Since January 2013, according to its Republican Conference, the Do-Lots House has adopted 347 bills that await votes in the Do-Little Senate. These include serious initiatives to reinvigorate the economy, reduce taxes, speed energy production, slice red tape, expand school choice, extend the flexibility of workers' hours, enhance federal accountability, and more.
See? House Republicans love governing! They're passing bills all the time! It's no wonder GOP House members are trying to work the phrase "Do-Nothing Senate" into public conversation.
The point, of course, isn't subtle. Congress is incredibly unpopular; the federal legislative process effectively broke the moment House Republicans took the majority in January 2011; and GOP officials are eager to avoid blame. Sure, Republicans refuse to compromise, refuse to consider concessions, reflexively oppose just about everything President Obama is for (even when he agrees with them), and are willing put aside their own legislative priorities (tax reform, immigration reform, et al), but that's no reason to hold the GOP responsible for Washington's policymaking paralysis, right?
There are, of course, a few problems with the thesis.
After four years in office, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has decided he cares about the environment. In fact, the Republican governor unveiled a new policy -- his "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" plan -- intended to expand investment in Everglades restoration, water supplies, and conservation.
An editorial out of Leesburg, Florida, took note of Scott's sudden change of heart (thanks to reader B.A. for the tip).
...Scott has a problem. His record. As much as Floridians would like to believe the governor wants to become a champion for the environment, his record is inescapable.
He dismantled the state's growth planning agency and oversaw the weakening of the processes by which Florida controlled its often phenomenal expansion. He cut the Florida Forever program that he now touts by a whopping $305 million in his first budget. And as for water, he slashed the water management budget $700 million, eliminated hundreds of water management jobs and instructed his team to make it easier for businesses to get water consumption permits.
The results were predictable. Florida's lakes, rivers and shores are more polluted. The Indian River Lagoon is disaster that has taken hundreds of animal lives, all because Lake Okeechobee remains a cesspool for big agriculture and development. All on Scott's watch.
And this doesn't even touch on the fact that Florida's governor has long been a climate denier. Asked recently to explain his perspective, all he could muster was, "I'm not a scientist."
But that was the old Rick Scott. The new Rick Scott has discovered he loves the environment after all.
So what happened? The election-year calculus changed.
On Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed, 18-year-old African American named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. Though there are conflicting accounts of what transpired, witnesses have told reporters that the victim held up his empty hands at the time of the shooting.
On Sunday, there was some looting among protesters, and last night's scene was ugly, with the police using tear gas and non-lethal rounds in the hopes of dispersing "a restless crowd."
In a second night of violence, streets were closed off around a gas station store in Ferguson, Missouri, that had been burned on Sunday. Police told crowds and reporters to leave the area. A shoe store was looted, according to NBC station KSDK. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told The Associated Press that officers responded after gunfire came from the crowd.
Fifteen arrests were made. St. Louis city alderman Antonio French posted a series of videos and pictures on Twitter documenting the police response. Young people were seen holding their hands up in the same manner that some witnesses have suggested Brown was at the time of the shooting. Police said Brown, 18, was shot after a physical confrontation with an officer. Brown's family disputes that account and their attorney Monday said the teen was "executed in broad daylight."
A report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch characterized tensions as "high and raw," though the report added that "by midnight, the situation was quiet."
This morning, msnbc ran a report based on an exclusive interview with Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown's friend who was there during Saturday's shooting. "I saw the barrel of the gun pointed at my friend," said Dorian Johnson, 22. "Then I saw the fire come out of the barrel." He added that "what began as an order by a police officer to 'get the f— onto the sidewalk' quickly escalated into a physical altercation and then, gunfire."
It's certainly possible that the issues of the day just won't make much difference in the midterm elections. Republicans, despite their woeful unpopularity, are poised to have a good year based on structural factors, and they probably won't be able to get in their own way.
In an interview with ABC News, Joni Ernst, the GOP Senate candidate in Iowa, suggested the U.S. should not have pulled troops out of Iraq when it did, blaming that supposed failure for the current escalation of violence. [...]
So this could get interesting, then: The Iowa Democratic Party is holding a conference call [Monday] afternoon to draw attention to Ernst's remarks. Here is one Senate race where the current events in Iraq -- and questions as to whether we should have pulled out or whether we should now escalate -- could become issues.
When Greg Sargent asked Ernst's spokesperson whether the Republican Senate hopeful supports expanded military engagement in Iraq, the spokesperson didn't want to talk about it.
Ernst, incidentally, is the same far-right candidate who inexplicably believes Saddam Hussein may have had secret weapons of mass destruction, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Around the same time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), a likely presidential candidate, raised the prospect of deploying U.S. ground forces to engage ISIS on the battlefield.
All the while, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) took to the airwaves to declare that no matter what President Obama is prepared to do militarily, it's insufficient.
If you're one of those voters thinking, "What I'd really like is more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East," Republicans have just the message for you.
But therein lies the rub: this election year, the GOP finds itself once again on the wrong side of the American mainstream. What's more, they seem eager to put this unpopular agenda up front and center.
Rachel Maddow reviews the history of federal involvement in the investigations of potential civil rights violations at the hands of police, leading up to the FBI involvement in investigations of a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri this weekend. watch
Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, talks with Rachel Maddow about the political instability in Iraq and the goal of new U.S. military involvement in the fight against ISIS. watch
Gloria Browne-Marshall, civil rights attorney and constitutional law professor at John Jay College, talks with Rachel Maddow about what it means when federal agencies get involved in investigations of local police violence. watch