When the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday announced it would not consider marriage equality this term, the justices let stand rulings from three appellate courts: the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits. It was welcome news for civil-rights proponents, but for those engaged in the debate, there was a lurking realization: more appellate courts were poised to rule any day now.
As it turns out, Americans didn't have to wait too long. The 9th Circuit ruled today, striking down Idaho's and Nevada's bans on marriage equality.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco made the ruling Tuesday. It did not decide on a similar case in Hawaii, which legalized gay marriage in December. [...]
The appeals court ruled that gay couples' equal protection rights were violated by the bans. Judge Stephen Reinhardt said during oral arguments in September that he expects the Supreme Court ultimately will decide whether gay marriage bans are constitutional.
The entirety of the 9th Circuit's ruling is online here (pdf). It was written by Judge Reinhardt, a Carter appointee.
It's starting to look like a real possibility that the lower courts will be unanimous on the issue of equal-marriage rights for all, raising the possibility that the Supreme Court will never have to weigh in on the subject because it will be moot -- every state will be covered, through the will of voters, elected policymakers, court rulings, or some combination therein.
At this point, it's easy to get a little lost as to where the landscape has changed, so let's take stock of what we've learned over the last couple of days.
House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) Twitter feed is a surprisingly aggressive operation, which occasionally leads to some embarrassing errors. Take today, for example.
This morning, the Speaker tweeted his five-point jobs plan, numbered one through five, which was left entirely blank -- making it appear as if the Republican plan to create jobs simply doesn't exist.
It was obviously just a mix-up, of course, and Boehner almost certainly has nothing to do with his own tweets. But there's a substantive element to this that shouldn't just be laughed off. Danny Vinik explained:
Liberals have had quite a bit of fun with this on Twitter (as I have), but Boehner accidentally told the truth in that tweet. The Republican Party doesn't have and has never had a jobs plan during the Obama presidency. [...]
That's the cruel irony in Boehner's tweet. It would be funny, but it represents the massive economic damage that the Republican Party has unnecessarily inflicted on the country the past six years. And that's not funny at all.
Indeed, the only part of the Speaker's tweet that wasn't a mistake was a link to the actual five-point plan, which only helped reinforce the fact that the Republican jobs agenda is little more than a mirage.
A federal court in April ruled against Wisconsin's voter-ID law, concluding that the restriction violated the Voting Rights Act's ban on racial discrimination. Last month, however, a three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals -- featuring three Republican-appointed jurists -- lifted the lower court's injunction, creating some election chaos in the Badger State.
Yesterday, as Zach Roth reported, the same 7th Circuit panel finished the job, ruling on the merits.
The 23-page ruling, written by Judge Frank Easterbrook, finds that the law is constitutional and does not violate the Voting Rights Act's (VRA) ban on racial discrimination. The opinion is striking for its blithe tone in upholding a law that could disenfranchise many thousands. One prominent election law scholar called it "horrendous." [...]
The law has likely disenfranchised voters already. When the appeals panel abruptly put the law into effect last month after it had been blocked for over two years, hundreds of people had already returned absentee ballots without ID, since the ID requirement wasn't in effect at the time they voted.
Elections-law expert Rick Hasen was clearly disgusted: "Judge Easterbrook picks out the evidence from the record he likes, and dismisses the evidence he does not like.... The opinion is also full of things that make my blood boil."
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has also already approved the voting restrictions, concluding that "voter fraud" is a legitimate "concern." The ruling specifically pointed to a Republican voter in Milwaukee accused of 13 counts of voter fraud -- none of which, ironically, would have been prevented by a voter-ID law.
Voting-rights advocates still hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene before thousands of Wisconsin voters are disenfranchised for no reason, but few consider it likely.
The consequences of this may very well swing the elections in the Wisconsin GOP's favor next month -- which is very likely why voting access was curtailed in the first place.
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:
* How competitive is Iowa's U.S. Senate race? The latest Loras College Poll, released yesterday, showed Joni Ernst (R) leading Bruce Braley (D), 42.4% to 42.1%.
* With Greg Orman (I) looking like a frontrunner in Kansas' U.S. Senate race, there's considerable interest in which party he'd caucus with. The independent candidate told NBC's Kelly O'Donnell yesterday's he's willing to switch back and forth between Democrats and Republicans, whenever it suits his purposes.
* There's usually very little interest in South Dakota's U.S. Senate race, but some progressives have quietly begun investing in the three-way contest, hoping to boost Rick Weiland (D) over Mike Rounds (R). All polling shows Rounds ahead, but former Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has shaken up the contest.
* In Michigan's gubernatorial race, PPP now shows Gov. Rick Snyder (R) leading Mark Schauer (D) by one, 47% to 46%, while a new Detroit News poll shows Snyder up by eight points.
* In Michigan's U.S. Senate race, both of these polls show Gary Peters (D) with comfortable leads over Terri Lynn Land (R), and reports indicate that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has officially given up on the race.
* The NRSC isn't the only committee making tough "triage" decisions right now: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee canceled ad buys in 12 U.S. House races this week, while adding resources to six other congressional campaigns.
* Connecticut is home to one of the nation's more competitive gubernatorial races, though a new PPP poll shows Dan Malloy (D) with an eight-point advantage over Tom Foley (R), 43% to 35%. Joe Visconti (I) is third in the poll with 9% support.
In any election season, it's expected that politicians will go out of their way to present themselves as allies of the military and U.S. servicemen and women. But there are still certain steps a politician must not take.
Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said he is pulling an ad touting his support for veterans, after state officials in charge of the veterans cemetery where it is was filmed said the rules prohibit the filming of political ads there. [...]
[P]art of the ad, according to Watchdog.org, takes place in the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan. August Honeyman of the North Dakota National Guard told the site that candidates are not allowed to film political spots at the cemetery.
To be sure, pulling the ad the right thing to do. The Republican congressman apparently never contacted the cemetery in advance, and made no effort to get approval from families whose loved ones are buried there.
But here's the part of the story that stands out for me: Cramer didn't fully pull the ad -- the Republican's campaign isn't airing the commercial anymore, but it left the spot intact online. Maybe he "did not elaborate" because he realized he wasn't really doing the right thing?
There's ample precedent for members of a president's team leaving office, writing a book, and having unkind words for their former boss. And as a simple matter of capitalism, it stands to reason that these books have to be controversial to make money -- books in which former officials spend 300 pages saying, "The president and I made a bunch of smart and effective decisions," probably don't sell well.
But former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been pushing his luck lately, taking a series of dubious shots at President Obama.
Panetta is hardly the first former cabinet official to publish a self-congratulatory, self-serving book, and if the former Pentagon chief hoped to generate interest in his memoir, he's succeeded -- Republicans can't stop talking about how much they suddenly love Leon Panetta.
But if we look past the personalities and the partisans, and focus solely on the policy, there are some striking problems with Panetta's complaints about Obama. For example, he toldUSA Today this week, "For the first four years, and the time I spent there, I thought [the president] was a strong leader on security issues.... But these last two years I think he kind of lost his way."
[Panetta's] basic worldview is simple: as long as Obama is launching lots of drone attacks and surging lots of troops and bombing plenty of Middle Eastern countries -- then he's a "strong leader on security issues." But when Obama starts to think that maybe reflexive military action hasn't acquitted itself too well over the past few years -- in that case he's "kind of lost his way."
That's the default view of practically everyone in Washington: Using military force shows strong leadership. Declining to use military force shows weakness. But most folks inside the Beltway don't even seem to realize they feel this way. It's just part of the air they breathe.... This is what Obama is up against.
And while every syllable of this is true, the scope of Panetta's odd complaints goes further.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) unveiled a new ad yesterday that suggests he's a tad concerned about the gender gap (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
"Hi, I'm Scott Walker. I'm pro-life, but there's no doubt in my mind that the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy is an agonizing one. That's why I support legislation to increase safety and to provide more information for a woman considering her options. The bill leaves the final decision to a woman and her doctor. Now reasonable people can disagree on this issue. Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Wisconsin citizens."
Right off the bat, this is the sort of ad an incumbent runs when he's on the defensive. If reproductive-rights issues weren't a problem for the Republican governor this year, Walker wouldn't bother airing messages like these.
For that matter, last November, the governor boasted that he felt inoculated on these issues, to the point that Walker was no longer concerned about their impact. Apparently, this prediction turned out to be wrong.
But it's the substance of Walker's ad that's especially striking. He supports measures to "increase safety and to provide more information"? Those are interesting euphemisms: the Wisconsin Republican supports imposing regulations that close health clinics while forcing women to undergo medically unnecessary ultrasounds.
Indeed, last year, Walker approved these sweeping new restrictions on reproductive rights in Wisconsin, signing the legislation in private, late on a Friday before a holiday weekend. The measures have run into trouble in the courts, which is obviously good news for reproductive rights advocates in the state, but in the context of a political campaign, what matters is Walker's policy goals.
And while the governor may call medically unnecessary ultrasounds "more information," it's hard to imagine anyone taking this seriously.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) faced off against former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in a New Hampshire debate last night, and choosing the most amazing part is surprisingly difficult.
We could, for example, start with Brown's odd boast that he's pro-contraception -- a position he says he's held "since I was 18 years old" -- despite the fact that he agrees with the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Or maybe we should kick things off with the fact that Brown has now changed his mind, once again, about whether he believes in climate change.
Shaheen argued that the already shrinking deficit could be even smaller by closing some existing tax loopholes, including billions of dollars in tax breaks the extraordinarily profitable oil industry receives but doesn't need. "There's real money there, and if you add it up, you begin to see the impact it would have," the Democrat said.
Brown wasn't buying it, however, saying that going after "fraud, waste and abuse" was a better idea. He also lumped all loopholes into one great big category, and suggested they should be left alone. [...]
"What's a loophole? Well, the investment tax credit is a loophole. The R&D tax credit is a loophole, the child care tax credit, the homeowner interest deduction," he said.
Wait, did Brown really equate the child care tax credit with oil-industry subsidies? Why, yes, actually he did.
Last week, Senate hopeful David Perdue, the Republican nominee in Georgia, ran into a little trouble. The candidate had already been damaged by criticisms of his private-sector background, which includes significant job losses through outsourcing, on top of factory closings, consolidations, and reduced work hours at U.S. facilities, but the story returned to front pages at an inopportune time.
In a 2005 deposition, Perdue was asked about his "experience with outsourcing," to which the Republican replied, "Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that."
Perdue and his campaign team have had a few days to come up with a compelling defense. This is what they came up with.
"Defend it? I'm proud of it," he said in a press stop at The White House restaurant in Buckhead. "This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day." [...]
In remarks Monday, he attempted to draw a line between his business decisions and Washington policies. "I think the issue that people get confused about is the loss of jobs," he said. "This is because of bad government policies: tax policy, regulation, even compliance requirements."
Unlike Perdue's 2005 deposition, yesterday's comments were on video -- which means voters in Georgia will be seeing the Republican talk about his outsourcing pride quite a bit in the near future.
As for Perdue blaming government for the job losses he helped orchestrate, Ed Kilgore's reaction rings true: "I dunno, Dave. The stretch run of a U.S. Senate campaign is a pretty bad time to be conducting a public education program in right-wing economics, or telling people they are 'confused' for disliking outsourcing."
By mid-day yesterday, hours after the Supreme Court had tacitly expanded marriage equality to several states, only one Republican U.S. senator, Utah's Mike Lee, had issued a press statement. In the midst of an extraordinary societal shift on civil rights, Republicans - from Capitol Hill to the RNC -- had effectively decided to take a pass on saying much of anything.
But it wasn't long after that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) decided to weigh in. The fact that the far-right senator wasn't pleased didn't come as a surprise, but take a moment to soak in the Texas Republican's incredible reasoning.
"The Supreme Court's decision to let rulings by lower court judges stand that redefine marriage is both tragic and indefensible," said Sen. Cruz. "By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution. The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing.
"This is judicial activism at its worst."
It wasn't too long ago that "judicial activism" was a phrase that actually meant something. Folks on the left and right who were outraged when judges made up new legal rationales to justify controversial decisions could credibly use the words as part of a reasonable complaint.
In time, the phrase became diluted. Soon, every judge a partisan disagreed with became a "judicial activist," whether the label made sense or not. Every ruling a partisan objected to became an example of "judicial activism," even if it wasn't.
But leave it to Ted Cruz to render the phrase utterly meaningless in a new and creative way: the Supreme Court, the senator now believes, can be guilty of "judicial activism" even when the justices literally haven't done anything. Yesterday's news was a breakthrough moment for equal-marriage rights, but in a practical sense, all the justices did was announce they wouldn't hear some cases -- something they do all the time, on all kinds of issues and areas of the law.
But that's not all: Cruz then told everyone what he intends to do about this outrage.
Rachel Maddow shares video of Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst insisting that she has special knowledge of there having been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on the 10th anniversary of the Duelfer Report finding no WMDs in Iraq. watch
Clay Jenkins, Dallas County judge, talks with Rachel Maddow about the challenges of handling the Ebola case in his county and his efforts to treat those affected with respect while working to quell the fears of the general public. watch