Conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court have already undermined some important pillars of modern American life. Is the "one-person, one-vote" principle next? The answer, as of yesterday, is maybe.
The high court announced yesterday that the justices will hear arguments in a case called Evenwel v. Abbott. As Adam Liptak summarized:
The case, a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by two voters, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger. They are represented by the Project on Fair Representation, the small conservative advocacy group that successfully mounted the earlier challenge to the Voting Rights Act. It is also behind a pending challenge to affirmative action in admissions at the University of Texas at Austin.
In the new case, the challengers said their voting power had been diluted. "There are voters or potential voters in Texas whose Senate votes are worth approximately one and one-half times that of appellants," their brief said.
Under the status quo, legislative districts are based on total populations: the Census counts the number of people and lines are drawn accordingly.
But some conservatives want a more restrictive model. Counting everyone, they argue, ends up including people who can't vote -- noncitizens, ex-felons, and those under the age of 18 -- which skews district lines. It's better, the right insists, to look exclusively at the number of eligible and/or registered voters.
And why are they pushing this change? Because, as elections-law expert Rick Hasen explained yesterday, "A ruling that states may not draw legislative district lines taking total population into account will benefit rural voters over urban voters, and that will benefit Republicans over Democrats."
Pastor Richard Gibson, tri-chair of the Greater Cleveland Congregations, talks with Rachel Maddow about the more egregious shortcomings of the Cleveland Police Department, and the new Justice Department recommendations for the Cleveland Police Department. watch
Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, Texas, talks with Rachel Maddow about how her city is handling the record-level rain and deadly floods, and the coming process of assessing any damage to city infrastructure. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the arrest of Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian, in Iran on what were eventually revealed to be espionage charges. The trial, shrouded in secrecy, began Tuesday and adjourned with no word of when it will resume. watch
* After their will to fight was questioned, Iraqi forces have something to prove: "Iraq has launched a military campaign to drive ISIS militants out of Anbar province, senior security officials said Tuesday."
* Republican judges on the 5th Circuit, doing exactly what's expected of them: "An appeals court on Tuesday rejected the Obama administration's request to lift the temporary freeze placed on the president's sweeping executive actions on immigration."
* Cleveland: "The Department of Justice has reached a settlement with the city of Cleveland over what federal authorities have described as a pattern of excessive use of force and unconstitutional, biased policing."
* Related news: "A Cleveland police officer has been found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the killing of two unarmed passengers whose car hood he mounted, sending a barrage of bullets into their windshield."
* Deadly storms: "Tornadoes and dangerous thunderstorms continued to race across the south-central U.S. after menacing Texas and Oklahoma on Monday with historic flooding that sent rescuers searching for 12 people still missing, including at least three young children."
* Will the votes be there for an override? "Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska vetoed a bill on Tuesday to abolish the death penalty in the state, testing the strength of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who said they would try to override his decision."
In the political debate surrounding the King v. Burwell case at the Supreme Court, there are effectively two competing factions: those who acknowledge that the litigation is hopelessly insane, and those who know the case is hopelessly insane but pretend otherwise for the sake of appearances.
Once in a while, even a congressional Republican is willing to stand in support of reality.
At issue in the case is whether half of a sentence, buried within the law and removed from context, should be used to tear down the American health care system and strip millions of families of their health security. The New York Timesset out to determine how that half of a sentence wound up in the law, and reporter Robert Pear talked to "more than two dozen Democrats and Republicans involved in writing the law." Not one of them endorsed the argument put forward by the plaintiffs.
"I don't ever recall any distinction between federal and state exchanges in terms of the availability of subsidies," said Olympia J. Snowe, a former Republican senator from Maine who helped write the Finance Committee version of the bill.
"It was never part of our conversations at any point," said Ms. Snowe, who voted against the final version of the Senate bill. "Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange."
Right. As Charles Gaba has noted, this is precisely how every member of the House, every member of the Senate, every congressional staffer, every White House staffer, everyone at HHS, everyone at the IRS, everyone at Treasury, everyone at the Justice Department, everyone at the Congressional Budget Office, every journalist covering the debate, every governor, every state legislator, every insurance company, and every hospital interpreted the law.
Though Snowe is too polite to say so explicitly, she's effectively acknowledged that the case her party is pushing to take coverage from millions of families is based entirely on a lie.
The U.S. Supreme Court probably won't rule on marriage equality until the end of June, and when it does, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is likely to side in support of equal-marriage rights.
For the right, this will be deeply annoying -- not just because of conservative opposition to marriage equality in general, but also because much of the right believes Ginsburg shouldn't be able to participate in the case at all. Right Wing Watch had this report this afternoon:
Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore spoke with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Friday about his belief that states should "resist" a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, saying that Congress and the states should simply defy a court decision they disagree with by stating "that there is no right to redefine marriage" in the U.S. Constitution.
"We have justices on the Supreme Court right now who have actually performed same-sex marriages, Ginsburg and Kagan," Moore continued. "Congress should do something about this."
Such as? Moore raised the prospect of impeachment proceedings.
Perkins concluded, in reference to Ginsburg, "This is undermining the rule of law in our country and ushers in an age of chaos."
Hillary Clinton told a group of Iowans that she "totally disagrees" with the idea of permanently stripping ex-felons of their voting rights. "I think if you've done your time, so to speak, and you've made your commitment to go forward you should be able to vote and you should be able to be judged on the same basis. You ought to get a second chance."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) chided Clinton's position, insisting he'd endorsed the policy first, which turned out to be completely wrong. (Clinton sponsored legislation on this in 2005, when Paul was still creating a self-accreditation body for his ophthalmology practice.)
But the fact that there would even be a dispute over who endorsed the idea first is itself evidence of progress -- it suggested the proposal had reached a level of mainstream credibility. Alas, as msnbc's Zack Roth reported, the progress was less evident in Maryland.
Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland vetoed a bill Friday that would have restored voting rights to around 40,000 former felons. [...]
Currently, over 63,000 Marylanders are disenfranchised because of past felonies, according to numbers compiled by The Sentencing Project. Around 65% of them are African-American.
The details, of course, matter. Maryland already helps restore voting rights for ex-felons eventually, but they're required to complete parole and a probationary period. Newly passed state legislation intended to expedite the process and restore voting rights faster -- once an otherwise eligible Maryland resident has completed his or her sentence, he or she would once again immediately be eligible to participate in elections.
According to Maryland's new Republican governor, that's too quick.
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:
* Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will host a presidential campaign kickoff event in his home town of Burlington, Vermont, this afternoon. On the other side of the partisan aisle, Rick Santorum joins the race tomorrow, followed by George Pataki on Wednesday. On Saturday, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley will join Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the Democratic field.
* The Koch brothers are prepared to invest roughly $900 million in the presidential race, but not necessarily in support of one candidate. "We are thinking of supporting several Republicans," David Koch told Larry Kudlow on Saturday. "If we're happy with the policies that these individuals are supporting, we'll finance their campaigns."
* Despite recruiting efforts from national party leaders, Rep. Josh Shapiro (D) has decided not to run for the Senate in Pennsylvania next year.
* National Democratic leaders believe Sen. Richard Burr (R) will be vulnerable in North Carolina next year, and they believe former Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who lost her re-election bid last year, is the best candidate for the job.
* At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, retired right-wing neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the presidential straw poll with 25.4% of the vote.
* At the same event, Carly Fiorina told the Republican crowd, "Nowhere is leadership more important now than in the world." I'm not entirely sure what that means.
Sen. John McCain (R) has been running in congressional elections in Arizona for a third of a century, and in that time, he's had exactly zero tough races against Democratic challengers. McCain won the closest general election of his career in his home state by 21 points.
With a record like this, even ambitious Arizona Democrats might steer clear of the longtime incumbent, but as Roll Callreports, the candidate the DSCC recruited has reportedly said yes.
Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick will challenge Republican Sen. John McCain for Senate, according to a source with knowledge of Kirkpatrick's plans, giving Democrats a top recruit and a potential pickup opportunity.
Kirkpatrick made calls Monday to inform people of her plans, the source told CQ Roll Call. Her bid also opens up Arizona's 1st District, a GOP-leaning seat that 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney captured by a 3-point margin in 2012.
Kirkpatrick, you'll recall, was a top target last year, though she persevered anyway, bolstered by her "Boots" ad -- one of the cycle's more memorable Democratic spots.
Realistically, the congresswoman would start the race against McCain as an underdog, but there may be more to this race than appears at the surface.
Last fall, Cory Gardner's Republican Senate campaign in Colorado found itself in a tough spot. The far-right candidate had spent much of his career trying to ban common forms of birth control -- which made him look like an extremist -- and Gardner continued to support a federal "personhood" policy, which he'd been caught lying about repeatedly.
In early September 2014, the Republican tried to fix his problem with a sort of Hail Mary pass: Gardner, despite years of service as a right-wing culture warrior, told Coloradans that he's actually a progressive champion of contraception access. To prove it, the conservative congressman vowed to introduce legislation to make birth control available over the counter without a prescription.
It was a brazen move, which was largely successful: Gardner won the race. As the Denver Postreported late last week, the GOP lawmaker followed through on the promise he made last fall.
The legislation encourages drug manufacturers of "routine-use contraceptives" to file an application with the Food and Drug Administration to sell their products over the counter.
Gardner is sponsoring the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. Their bill also would repeal the Affordable Care Act's restriction on the use of health, medical and flexible savings accounts to purchase over-the-counter drugs without a prescription.
As longtime readers may recall from last fall, this may seem like a reasonable resolution to an ugly mess. If anti-contraception employers don't want to cover birth control as part of employees' health plan, and religiously affiliated employers have moral objections to insurers' paperwork, this over-the-counter approach makes the purchases more direct: if the FDA approves contraceptive medications for over-the-counter sales, it wouldn't matter what employers, insurers, or even physicians like or dislike.
The ground rules for the first round of Republican presidential debates have taken shape, and at least for now, they don't seem to have many fans. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has helped lead the charge, likely because he'll be excluded given the current criteria, but Ben Carson has also been critical, despite the fact that he's all but certain to make the cut.
Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg called the current rules "unfair" and recommended an alternative approach:
The obvious answer is to divide the field in half, randomly assigning individual hopefuls to one of the two debates. Of course, not everyone will like the group he or she is in, and the makeup of each group would determine the particular dynamic of that debate.
After a couple of debates, the hosts of additional debates will have just cause to limit the number of debaters. But doing so in the first couple of debates is inherently unfair and could end up damaging the party's image. You'd think that that would be something the RNC would want to avoid.
Despite the recent criticism, there's been no indication from party officials or the relevant networks that the recently announced criteria for participation may be revisited.
One of the under-appreciating angles to the problem is the system of incentives debate organizers have inadvertently created.
It was a few weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) shared a pretty dumb observation with a Boston audience: "Everything that starts with 'Al' in the Middle East is bad news." To bolster his point, the Republican even started rattling off some examples: al Qaeda, al-Nusra, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, etc.
What Graham apparently didn't realize is that "al," is the Arabic word for "the." One of the Republican Party's most prominent voices on foreign affairs shared an insight that made him appear quite foolish.
At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Oklahoma City, Graham didn't make things any better. The BBC reported:
Senator Lindsey Graham, the first speaker Friday morning, appearing from Washington via video, spoke of losing his parents as a teenager, working in a pool hall and having to help raise his younger sister -- and how it relates to his leadership style.
"Everything I learned about Iranians I learned working in the pool room," he said. "I met a lot of liars, and I know Iranians are liars."
A report from Slatenoted that the BBC report isn't entirely correct. A video of Graham's remarks shows him saying, "I met a lot of liars, and I know the Iranians are lying." That's obviously not the same thing as the senator accusing everyone in Iran of being liars.
The video nevertheless makes clear that Graham believes he has finely tuned lie-detection skills, and those skills now tell him that Iranian officials involved in the international nuclear talks are just like those pool sharks he used to know.
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