Tag Archives: u.s. supreme court

Conservative Supreme Court justices fire John Doe II prosecutor

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-1, today rejected a request from John Doe prosecutor Francis Schmitz to reconsider its July decision that shut down a secret investigation into alleged coordination between electioneering groups and Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

What’s more, the Court dismissed Schmitz, effective immediately, which may adversely affect any ability to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both rulings were met with a scathing dissent by Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who wrote: “What a mess this Court has wrought!”

The Court, with Abrahamson’s assent, did issue a stay, however, on its previous order that all documents in the John Doe II case need to be destroyed. Instead, it ordered those documents to be turned over to the Court itself.

The John Doe probe was launched by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in 2012 with help from Schmitz, other county district attorneys, and the state Government Accountability Board. The investigation looked at collaboration between Walker’s campaign and several conservative groups that ran ads, including the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, during the recalls.

Both of the state Supreme Court’s rulings in the case in July and today were rendered by the seven-member court’s conservative majority – Chief Justice Pat Roggensack, and Justices David Prosser, Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman.

On the merits of Schmitz’s request for reconsideration of the July decision, which legalized coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups, the four conservative justices on the Court concluded that the prosecutor would suffer no immediate harm if they upheld their decision. And they also said that his argument that the John Doe should continue because there was evidence of coordination not only with issue advocacy groups but also with express advocacy groups (groups that say “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate) was invalid because he didn’t raise it earlier.

Abrahamson excoriated the Court for this conclusion, on two grounds.

First, even on the question of issue advocacy coordination itself, the State Supreme Court should have reconsidered its “misguided” decision in light of U.S Supreme Court precedents and “a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that is contrary to the July 16, 2015 majority opinion,” she wrote.

Second, on the question of express advocacy coordination, Abrahamson said the majority opinion had reached an “ erroneous conclusion that the Special Prosecutor never presented evidence of illegally coordinated express advocacy to the John Doe Judge.”In fact, wrote, Abrahamson, “According to the record, evidence of coordinated express advocacy on which the Special Prosecutor relies was presented both to the John Doe Judge and to this court. The legal arguments and evidence the Special Prosecutor presented to the John Doe Judge and to this court provide ‘reason to believe’ a crime was committed by coordinated express advocacy. Accordingly, reconsideration should be granted and the investigation into coordinated express advocacy should continue.”

On the issue of whether Schmitz was appointed in a valid manner in the first place, Abrahamson had some fun pointing out the inconsistencies of her colleagues. The majority opinion issued by Justice Michael Gableman in July affirmed that Schmitz was lawfully appointed. The concurring opinion by Justice David Prosser took the opposing view. “By joining both Justice Gableman’s majority opinion and Justice Prosser’s concurrence, four justices created at least two sets of votes that logically do not align: The four justices held that the Special Prosecutor’s appointment was simultaneously valid and invalid.” For her part, Abrahamson said that Gableman had it right the first time.

The Court’s dismissal of Schmitz provoked Abrahamson’s ire.

“The prosecution and State are left totally unrepresented hereafter,” she wrote. The majority suggested that local district attorneys might petition the Court to intervene but taking on such a complex case would be costly and time consuming,” Abrahamson noted.

She noted that the dismissal of the Special Prosecutor could hamper any effort to appeal the July decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Schmitz has been considering. “This ruling has the potential to create problems with respect to who may act on behalf of the prosecution in this court or elsewhere going forward,” she wrote.

Even the majority alluded to this possibility, while denying any intent: “Our decision to terminate Attorney Schmitz’s authority is not meant to interfere with the ability of the prosecution team to seek Supreme Court review.”

Abrahamson also objected to the Court’s requirement that Schmitz execute some “limited tasks” that the majority assigned to him, even though it canned him as prosecutor.

Those “limited tasks,” most to be completed within 30 days, include:

the returning of computer hardware and other personal property to their rightful owners;

the turning over of all documents and electronic data in the case, under seal, to the Wisconsin Supreme Court;

supplying a written index to those documents;

getting statements from all members, past and present, of the prosecution team and others who had access to these documents that they no longer possess copies of them;

providing written notices to all individuals and organizations whose documents or electronic data were obtained by the prosecution.

Abrahamson called this an “unfunded mandate” and wondered whether Schmitz would have to do this work for free. The Court “assigns the Special Prosecutor new tasks and new deadlines without providing the Special Prosecutor (a private practitioner) any compensation or assistance.”

Lastly, Abrahamson objected strongly to the secrecy that the State Supreme Court has imposed on this case, sealing one filing after another. “The general rule is that court filings are presumptively open for public inspection. . . . In the face of virtually total secrecy of filings since July 16, 2015, the public cannot understand the basis for the four justices’ decisions. And she quoted a U.S. Supreme Court precedent on the subject of secret court proceedings: “The crucial prophylactic aspects of the administration of justice cannot function in the dark; no community catharsis can occur if justice is ‘done in a corner [or] in any covert manner.’ ”

As she put it: “Why the secrecy?

Matt Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

John Doe prosecutor vows to fight on

John Doe II special prosecutor Francis Schmitz issued the following statement today:

“I am disappointed with the decision issued today and if I have the resources, intend to pursue an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.  I continue to believe that the investigation was justified. The voters of Wisconsin have a right to know the identity of large donors, corporate and individual, which coordinate with campaign committees.

The miscalculation I made in this investigation was underestimating the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics.  

My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups.  When sued in federal court for violating their “civil rights,” I, along other members of the investigative team, were vindicated by the U.S Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  

I intend to continue to pursue what I believe is the right course for those citizens of Wisconsin who do not have the financial resources to influence elections.”


Supreme Court turns away appeal from former Walker aide

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear an appeal brought by a former aide to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Kelly Rindfleisch was convicted of campaigning on taxpayers’ time and she was asking the nation’s highest court to review her argument that the investigation against her involved an illegal search of her emails.

However, the justices on Oct. 5 let stand a lower court ruling that said prosecutors did not violate her constitutional rights.

Rindfleisch pleaded guilty in 2012 to doing campaign work at her Milwaukee County government job.

The AP said she was one of six people convicted following an investigation into Walker’s former aides and associates when he served as Milwaukee County executive.

Walker was never charged.

Rindfleisch argued that the warrants for her emails were too broad and violated her constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches.

A state appeals court ruled 2-1 that the warrants were constitutional.

Why John Doe prosecutor should appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court

Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has an obligation to appeal the decision by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court to dismiss the John Doe investigation. That decision legalized coordination between candidates and outside groups so long as those groups don’t say “Vote For” or “Vote Against” a certain candidate.

Schmitz was investigating alleged coordination between Scott Walker and several outside groups during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered him to close that investigation.

Schmitz has two solid grounds for appealing that order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first is that the conservative justices who ruled against him, 4-2, were biased and should have recused themselves.

The second is that those justices misread the U.S. Supreme Court precedents on campaign finance law and the First Amendment.

On the first ground, the four conservative justices — Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Annette Ziegler, Justice Michael Gableman, and Justice David Prosser — had an obvious conflict of interest. Three main groups that the special prosecutor was investigating – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America — spent a combined total of more than $8 million on expenditures to help elect those four justices.

Here is the breakdown:

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce spent about $5.6 million on these four conservative justices:

  • $500,000 in support of Roggensack
  • $1,100,000 in support of Prosser
  • $1,760,000 in support of Gableman
  • $2,200,000 in support of Ziegler

Wisconsin Club for Growth spent about $1.75 million on the four conservative justices:

  • $350,000 in support of Roggensack
  • $400,000 in support of Ziegler
  • $500,000 in support of Gableman
  • $500,000 in support of Prosser

Citizens for a Strong America spent about $1 million in support of Prosser in his tightly contested reelection race against JoAnne Kloppenburg in 2011.

In the landmark Caperton v. Massey Coal case in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a judge needs to recuse himself or herself when a party to a case has given so much campaign support to that judge that there is a “serious risk of actual bias.” As the Brennan Center for Justice has noted, the U.S. Supreme Court cited several factors that demonstrate such a serious risk: the “relative size” of the financial support in comparison to the total amount contributed to the campaign; the “apparent effect” of this financial support on “the outcome of the election”; and the timing of the financial support relative to the election day and the likelihood that a case involving the donor would be soon before the court.

The relative size of the expenditures on behalf of all four justices and the apparent effect those expenditures had on the outcome of their elections provide a solid basis for ruling that all four justices should have recused themselves.

As regards Justice Gableman, the $1,760,000 that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent on his behalf proved decisive in an election that he won by only 20,000 votes. He has reliably ruled in favor of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce since getting on the state’s highest court.

As regards Justice Prosser, the $2,600,000 that all three groups combined spent on his behalf proved decisive in the 2011 election that he won by only 7,000 votes. His victory came at a time when the recall process was just getting under way (and it was the activities of these three groups during the recalls that were at issue in the John Doe investigation).

Special prosecutor Schmitz had filed a motion seeking the recusal of at least one of the justices. That motion was not granted. And therefore this is one clear path for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The second grounds for appeal is equally strong. As the Brennan Center has noted, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s ruling is “at odds with nearly forty years of Supreme Court precedent.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled that it was protecting “political speech, a vital First Amendment right,” when it said that it was OK for outside groups to coordinate with a candidate so long as those outside groups aren’t engaging in express advocacy.

But in the famous 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, the court ruled that expenditures by outside groups that are coordinated with candidates amount to campaign contributions. “The ultimate effect is the same as if the person had contributed the dollar amount to the candidate and the candidate had then used the contribution,” the court ruled. Such expenditures, it said, should be “treated as contributions rather than expenditures.”

In fact, it is only the lack of coordination that reduces the risk of corruption, the Court argued in Buckley. “The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidates.”

By contrast, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, by legalizing coordination, is inviting precisely the kind of “quid pro quo” that Buckley was aiming to prevent. Ironically, the Wisconsin statute it invalidated was treating coordinated expenditures as contributions, just as the U.S. Supreme Court had instructed in Buckley.

In its 2003 ruling in McConnell v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the illegality of coordination, stating that “outside expenditures that are coordinated with a candidate — or “made after a wink or nod” — often will be ‘as useful to the candidate as cash.’ ”

Even in its infamous Citizens United decision of 2010, which allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, the U.S Supreme Court stressed that such groups had to be independent; they couldn’t coordinate with their favored candidates. “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court simply chose to ignore that, just as it ignored and overran the Buckley and McConnell rulings.

And as the Brennan Center has noted, the U.S. Supreme Court has never said that coordinated expenditures are OK so long as the so-called independent group is not engaging in “express advocacy.” The Wisconsin State Supreme Court made that up on its own.

The special prosecutor should appeal that to the U.S. Supreme Court.

From Buckley to Citizens United and beyond, the U.S. Supreme Court has advocated disclosure of contributions. The decision by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court undermines these precedents.

Here’s how: In Wisconsin, if you’re running for governor, your richest donor can give you only $10,000, which you have to disclose. But now you can ask your billionaire friend to give $100,000 or $1,000,000 to an outside group and you can tell that outside group how to spend it (as long as it doesn’t run an ad saying, “Vote for” or “Vote against”). And the kicker is that this outside group doesn’t have to disclose where it got the $100,000 or the $1,000,000. In this way, our democracy in Wisconsin will drown in a sea of dark money.

In Buckley, the U.S. Supreme Court said that disclosure requirements were necessary to “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision runs 180 degrees counter to that.

For these reasons, the special prosecutor must appeal the decision of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in the John Doe case and give democracy a chance in Wisconsin.

Transcript: President Obama’s remarks on marriage equality ruling

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality nationwide, President Barack Obama delivered the following remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House.

The president made his comments at about 11:15 a.m. June 26: 

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal.  The project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times — a never-ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American.  

Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.  And then sometimes, there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt. 

This morning, the Supreme Court recognized that the Constitution guarantees marriage equality.  In doing so, they’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law.  That all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love. 

This decision will end the patchwork system we currently have.  It will end the uncertainty hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples face from not knowing whether their marriage, legitimate in the eyes of one state, will remain if they decide to move [to] or even visit another.  This ruling will strengthen all of our communities by offering to all loving same-sex couples the dignity of marriage across this great land.

In my second inaugural address, I said that if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.  It is gratifying to see that principle enshrined into law by this decision.  

This ruling is a victory for Jim Obergefell and the other plaintiffs in the case.  It’s a victory for gay and lesbian couples who have fought so long for their basic civil rights.  It’s a victory for their children, whose families will now be recognized as equal to any other.  It’s a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years, even decades, working and praying for change to come.

And this ruling is a victory for America.  This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts:  When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free. 

My administration has been guided by that idea.  It’s why we stopped defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and why we were pleased when the Court finally struck down a central provision of that discriminatory law.  It’s why we ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  From extending full marital benefits to federal employees and their spouses, to expanding hospital visitation rights for LGBT patients and their loved ones, we’ve made real progress in advancing equality for LGBT Americans in ways that were unimaginable not too long ago.  

I know change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long.  But compared to so many other issues, America’s shift has been so quick.  I know that Americans of goodwill continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition in some cases has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs.  All of us who welcome today’s news should be mindful of that fact; recognize different viewpoints; revere our deep commitment to religious freedom.  

But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shifts in hearts and minds is possible.  And those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.  Because for all our differences, we are one people, stronger together than we could ever be alone.  That’s always been our story.

We are big and vast and diverse; a nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, different experiences and stories, but bound by our shared ideal that no matter who you are or what you look like, how you started off, or how and who you love, America is a place where you can write your own destiny.

We are a people who believe that every single child is entitled to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

There’s so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American.  But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect. 

That’s the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but, more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, who talked to parents — parents who loved their children no matter what.  Folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love.

What an extraordinary achievement.  What a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.  What a reminder of what Bobby Kennedy once said about how small actions can be like pebbles being thrown into a still lake, and ripples of hope cascade outwards and change the world. 

Those countless, often anonymous heroes — they deserve our thanks.  They should be very proud.  America should be very proud. 

Thank you.  (Applause.) 

Historic Day: Supreme Court hears marriage equality cases

UPDATED: Two years ago, Justice Anthony Kennedy left little doubt during Supreme Court arguments that a part of the federal anti-gay marriage law was doomed.

When the justices heard arguments on April 28 in a broader case about the right of same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the United States, the 78-year-old Kennedy’s comments were less clear-cut and his potentially decisive vote less certain than it was two years ago.

He left people on both sides of the issue with hopes and fears about the outcome in the landmark civil rights case, although Kennedy’s track record as the author of the court’s three earlier rulings in favor of gay rights probably gives same-sex marriage supporters less to fear.

Kennedy’s role as the often-pivotal vote on the court was reinforced by the apparent deep divide between the court’s liberal and conservative justices over whether the Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry. Those couples can do so now in 36 states and the District of Columbia, and the court is weighing whether gay and lesbian unions should be allowed in all 50 states.

The drama played out in the packed, grand courtroom with its 44-foot ceiling, marble columns and mahogany bench. Kennedy’s wife, as well as those of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer watched the arguments along with many of the plaintiffs whose cases were before the court. Also in the crowd was Rives Miller Grogan, who briefly interrupted the proceedings after about 30 minutes with an anti-gay harangue that warned gay marriage supporters they would “burn in hell.” Supreme Court police officers quickly removed Grogan from the courtroom.

As advocates and protesters demonstrated outside, Kennedy worried about changing the definition of marriage from the union of a man and a woman, a meaning that he said has existed for “millennia-plus time.”

“It’s very difficult for the court to say `We know better'” after barely a decade of experience with same-sex marriage in the United States, Kennedy told Mary Bonauto, a lawyer representing same-sex couples.

But he also talked about the touchstones of dignity and concern for children in same-sex households that drove his earlier opinions. “Same-sex couples say, of course, `We understand the nobility and the sacredness of marriage. We know we can’t procreate, but we want the other attributes of it in order to show that we, too, have a dignity that can be fulfilled,'” Kennedy said in an exchange with lawyer John Bursch, who was defending the state marriage bans.

Later, Kennedy also seemed concerned about adopted children in same-sex households if only one partner is considered a parent. “Under your view, it would be very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt those children,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy’s first question to Bonauto suggested to same-sex marriage opponent Ryan Anderson that his mind is not made up. “The first question out of Justice Kennedy was, do you want to throw away a millennia-old definition of marriage for 10 years of same-sex marriage. He was asking questions that I think are a good sign,” said Anderson, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But Brian Fitzpatrick, a Vanderbilt University law professor who once served as a law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, said Kennedy’s questioning seemed more favorable to same-sex marriage supporters, even with his early focus on the definition of marriage. “He did want an answer to why we should change it after 10 years of experience. I think he answered that question himself when he talked about dignity and concern for the children,” Fitzpatrick said.

Another sign that could point to the same outcome was Kennedy’s relative lack of interest in the second issue that was argued Tuesday, whether states have to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere, said Thomas Goldstein, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer and publisher of Scotusblog. That’s because the answer to the recognition question is unimportant if the court says same-sex couples can marry everywhere, Goldstein said.

The Washington lawyer who argued the 2003 case in which the court struck down state sodomy bans offered a reminder that argument sessions don’t always give a clear picture of where a justice stands. The lawyer, Paul Smith recalled that Kennedy was “very quiet and hard to read” in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas. Kennedy wrote the court’s opinion in that case.

“Today I thought his questions overall showed he is leaning our way. He clearly wasn’t convinced of the state interest being offered by Michigan,” Smith said.

The justices will meet in private on Friday to take a preliminary vote on the issues and assign opinions. If Kennedy is with the liberal justices in a five-justice majority, he would decide who gets to write it because he would be the senior justice in the majority. Kennedy kept the opinion for himself two years ago and almost certainly would do so again.

If Roberts is in the majority, he would assign the opinion. 

Outside the Court

People on both sides of the issue gathered outside the marble courthouse early on April 28. Some waved gay rights banners, while others carried placards proclaiming marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“Homo sex is a sin,” read one sign. A man shouted into a microphone that gays violate the laws of God. A group of same-sex advocates tried to drown him out by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Cheers went up in the crowd when the court’s doors opened, allowing a lucky few who lined up days ago to get inside.

“Today is a historic day for countless loving couples and for all Americans who cherish those words on the top of the Supreme Court — ‘equal justice under law,'” sad Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.”

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, said before the hearing, “The Supreme Court, like more than 50 courts that have ruled in favor of marriage equality since DOMA was struck down in 2013, should recognize that the time has come to make full marriage equality the law of the land.”

Only 11 states have granted marriage rights to same-sex couples through the ballot or the legislature. Court rulings are responsible for all the others.

A decision from the high court is expected in late June.

After the hearing, Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights said, “Only the Supreme Court can resolve this conflict and affirm that the Constitution guarantees all Americans the freedom to marry and to have their marriages respected regardless of whether they live.”

For the record …

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said after the Supreme Court hearing: “Today, the U.S. Supreme Court is taking the first steps to putting an end to the debate over same-sex marriage once and for all.  I am hopeful and optimistic that the Court will find every American has the right to equal protection under the law, regardless of who they love.

“Millions of LGBT Americans today still live as second class citizens in states which do not recognize their right to marry and do not have the same legal benefits other Americans enjoy. It’s time our nation ends LGBT discrimination.”

Join the ‘people’s brief’ | Join in the Supreme Court case for marriage equality

The Human Rights Campaign on Feb. 10 launched an unprecedented “People’s Brief” to the U.S. Supreme Court. The effort offers people the opportunity to sign on to a friend-of-the-court brief for marriage equality in advance of oral argument before the Supreme Court this spring.

Roberta Kaplan, the civil rights attorney who won the landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, is the author and lead counsel on the brief. The “People’s Brief” campaign allows any American who has read the brief and agrees with its contents to sign on and to show their support for marriage equality directly to the Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments this spring and is expected to resolve the issue of national marriage equality this summer.

The “People’s Brief” marks the first time that many fair-minded Americans will have the opportunity to have their voices formally heard in a civil rights case of this magnitude, according to the HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

People can find the brief at HRC.org and, after reading the brief, they can affix their name to the document that will be entered into the record, distributed to the Supreme Court justices and considered by the highest court in the land.

Edie Windsor, the plaintiff who successfully challenged the federal marriage ban in DOMA, was the first signatory on the People’s Brief, one of dozens of amicus briefs to be submitted in support of marriage equality.

“When it comes to marriage equality, the Supreme Court has heard from business leaders and elected officials, faith leaders and even the President of the United States,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release. “But, until now, they’ve never heard from the fair-minded American majority who simply wants to see their LGBT friends and neighbors treated fairly and equally under the law. As we fight to guarantee marriage equality for all Americans, the People’s Brief will show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the country is ready for marriage and that love can’t wait even a single day longer.”

“The Supreme Court has made it clear that laws passed based upon a desire to discriminate against gay people offend the equal protection principles of our Constitution,” said Kaplan. “Such laws treat gay people as second class citizens—exactly what the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits. Over the course of decades, the American people have come to realize that their gay friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues have the same dignity and the same aspirations to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as everyone else. This brief describes that phenomenon and its impact on the law.”

HRC is launching a campaign to collect signatures on the brief over the next four weeks.

Here is a summary outline of the brief:

“Times can blind us to certain truths,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in a major 2003 LGBT rights opinion, “later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact only serve to oppress.”

Many voters and legislators really were blinded by the times when they supported laws and constitutional amendments banning marriage equality. They did not realize that they knew LGBT people personally, and could not recognize the contributions that LGBT people and their families make—as employees, as neighbors, as part of the social fabric in every community in America. Some saw the LGBT community as strangers, not as people with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. 

In many respects, those oppressive times are behind us. In poll after poll, the broad majority of Americans now support marriage equality. Many people who once opposed it are unafraid to admit their views have evolved. Why? They’ve simply met LGBT people in their own lives.

In other words, the laws challenged in this case are more than fundamentally unfair. They were adopted at a time when many did not understand that LGBT Americans are individuals deserving of dignity. The Supreme Court has already recognized in US v. Windsor that LGBT people have an inherent right to dignity. In light of this undeniable truth, it’s time to leave the blindness of the past behind and guarantee the equal protection our constitution promises to every American.

The brief will be formally submitted to the Supreme Court in advance of the March 6 deadline for such submissions.

Illegal abortion: Back to the future?

Forty-two years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that most restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional. The reasonable compromise of Roe v. Wade has been under attack ever since. 

The Roe v. Wade decision cited an individual’s right to privacy and a physician’s right to practice medicine without government interference “in the absence of compelling state interests.” The court defined state interests as including the health of a woman and the potential life of a fetus after six months’ gestation. 

The ruling allowed a woman to decide for herself during the first trimester whether to terminate her pregnancy. During the second trimester, regulations related to clinical settings could be imposed in the interests of protecting the woman’s health. In the third trimester, when viability of the fetus (ability to live outside the womb) was assumed, the state could restrict abortion except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman.

This wise decision is being shredded out of existence through public funding cuts; parental and spousal notification laws; mandatory waiting periods; compulsory, unscientific “counseling”; bogus, invasive screening procedures; onerous restrictions on abortion clinics; intimidation of patients and clinic personnel; assassinations of doctors.

What awaits us if abortion is again criminalized?

In the decades before Roe, up to 1.2 million American women obtained illegal abortions every year. Five thousand women — mothers, daughters, sisters, wives — died annually as the result of illegal abortions, whether self-induced or performed by any unqualified hack looking to make a buck. 

Thousands more women were injured seriously enough to require medical care. 

The results of desperate do-it-yourself and back-alley abortions could be perforated uteruses, internal burning and scarring from caustic substances like lye, and life-threatening sepsis.

“Pro-life” activists display big, colorful pictures of fetuses to dramatize their position. Pre-Roe legalization advocates had more horrific pictures to share: gruesome photos of women’s dead bodies, naked, contorted, bleeding out, abandoned in basements and alleyways.

The highly publicized ordeal of Sherri Finkbine in 1962 spurred public concern.

Finkbine, the mother of four children, worked as “Miss Sherri,” the host of the local version of Romper Room in Phoenix. Suffering from nausea and insomnia with her fifth pregnancy, she took a drug her husband had obtained in Europe — a toxic drug later banned for use by pregnant women: thalidomide.

Finkbine felt worse as her pregnancy progressed and tests revealed the fetus to be seriously deformed. Finkbine requested a therapeutic abortion (the only type available and rarely granted). An Arizona hospital first assented, then reneged. Finkbine appealed to a judge, who dismissed her case. She had to travel all the way to Sweden to finally obtain an abortion.

By 1970, only two states allowed abortion in the first months of pregnancy. Outside New York and Hawaii, only women who could afford the cost of travel to those states could obtain abortions. Women who self-aborted or obtained illegal abortions were criminals, risking prosecution, endangering themselves and living in fear and shame.

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, safe, legal abortion saved thousands of women’s lives. Since 1980, abortion rates have declined due to more effective contraception and access to family planning services. 

In Wisconsin today, Gov. Scott Walker and GOP legislators are destroying both family planning and abortion services. To resist these backward, damaging efforts, go to www.ppawi.org and get involved. 

No stay, gay couples to marry in Florida in January

The U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 19 denied the state of Florida’s motion for a stay of an August federal court ruling that overturned the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The order means the stay expires at the end of the day on Jan. 5. Same-sex couples can marry in Florida once the stay in the ruling is lifted.

“We are thrilled the U.S. Supreme Court has denied the state’s request to delay marriages in Florida,” said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, the state’s LGBT civil rights group. “Every day of delay is another day of harm experienced by thousands of loving and committed same-sex couples in Florida. It’s time to break out the wedding bells!  We look forward to January 6th being a special day — Florida is ready for the freedom to marry.”

On Aug. 21, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in favor of the freedom to marry and respect for marriages legally performed between same-sex couples in other states in the federal marriage cases, Brenner v. Scott and Grimsley and Albu v. Scott, brought by the ACLU of Florida, SAVE and private counsel.

Daniel Tilley of the ACLU of Florida emphasized that now clerks across the entire state have a duty to marry couples. He said, “The Supreme Court has spoken, and we expect clerks to begin marrying couples who will finally get access to the protections their families deserve.”

The district court placed a hold on the decision to allow time for an appeal, but the stay is scheduled to expire on Jan. 5. On Dec. 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit denied the state’s request for an extension of that stay, allowing same-sex couples to marry, even as the appeal in the case proceeded.

“Committed and loving gay and lesbian couples in Florida are just as deserving of the right to marry as anyone else,” said Human Rights Campaign legal director Sarah Warbelow. “Every day these couples and their families are denied the protections and benefits that come with legal marriage, they risk real and serious consequences.  We look forward to the day that all couples are able to have their relationships recognized as valid under the law.”

Flashback 2014: Legal challenges threaten to destroy Obamacare

“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in June in her 35-page dissent in the Hobby Lobby case. She called Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion a decision of “startling breadth.” 

Alito said Hobby Lobby, which has a chain of 500 arts-and-crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Pennsylvania furniture company, cannot be forced to comply with the Affordable Care Act mandate that health care plans, at no extra charge, cover contraception for women as part of a range of preventive benefits.

The court, which previously had ruled in favor of “corporate personhood,” said closely held companies — those with a few people owning more than 50 percent — can hold religious views.

The court’s four liberal justices said the decision to extend religious protections to for-profit companies will have untoward effects and, as Ginsburg wrote, closely held corporations can be large or small, public or private. Cargill is a closely held company. So is Koch Industries.

And the court’s 5-4 decision weakened the Affordable Care Act, which said birth control should be covered by insurance in the same manner in which other preventive drugs and treatments are covered.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., was dismayed and disappointed by the decision. “No one should be denied access to health care because of her employer’s religious beliefs,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said the ruling “continues a dangerous trend of favoring the rights of corporations over people, but also tramples on health-care decisions made between a woman and her doctor.”

Political challenges to overturn or weaken the Affordable Care Act continued into the fall, before and after the midterms.

Meanwhile, opinion polls showed more negative attitudes than positive attitudes toward Obamacare and, as the health care marketplace opened for a second year, many Americans learned their current plans were being canceled and premiums were on the rise.

“I’ve defended the Affordable Care Act because we needed to do something,” said Madison resident Amy Beadle. “But I’m deeply disappointed in what it offers me, as a consumer. I paid less for insurance before it.”

As Beadle was looking for a new and affordable plan, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge from the right that threatens the tax credits for millions — including Wisconsinites — buying insurance through the federal exchange.

The challenge, said Ron Pollack of Families USA, is “the most serious existential threat” facing the Affordable Care Act.

Uncertainty in Kansas as officials refuse to honor court orders on same-sex marriage

Same-sex couples in Kansas are eager to say “I do” in the exchange of wedding vows, but Kansas officials — from the state level to the local level — are saying we won’t to legal rulings to issue marriage licenses.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision late on Nov. 12 cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Kansas, but the court clerk in the most populous county won’t grant licenses to gay couples until a separate legal case is resolved before the state’s highest court.

And Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s determination to defend the state’s gay-marriage ban remains a roadblock to same-sex weddings. He has the backing of ultra-right Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican who pledged to work with Schmidt to preserve a provision in the state constitution against gay marriage that was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2005.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Kansas to prevent gay and lesbian couples from marrying while the state fights the issue in court. Schmidt said that decision applies only in Douglas, a northeastern Kansas county, and Sedgwick, in south-central Kansas, where the court clerks are defendants. The American Civil Liberties Union contends the ruling applies in all 105 counties.

The legal situation in Kansas is complicated by another case before the Kansas Supreme Court, which Schmidt filed last month. He persuaded the Kansas court to block marriage licenses for same-sex couples, at least while his case is heard.

Marriage licenses in Kansas are issued by district court clerks’ offices after a mandatory three-day wait. In Johnson County, Court Clerk Sandra McCurdy said about 70 applications from same-sex couples are pending.

“Until I hear something from the Kansas Supreme Court, I’m not issuing any marriage licenses,” McCurdy said.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond, Virginia, law professor, said other clerks are likely to react the same way “out of an abundance of caution.”

The U.S. Supreme Court order was consistent with its handling of requests from other states seeking to preserve their bans while they appealed lower-court rulings favoring gays and lesbians.

However, Kansas’ emergency appeal was closely watched to see whether the court would change its practice following last week’s appellate ruling that upheld anti-gay marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Those cases now are headed to the Supreme Court, and the gay marriage issue nationwide could be heard and decided by late June.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to hear cases from three appeals courts that had overturned gay marriage bans. Kansas, South Carolina and Montana all have refused to allow gay couples to obtain marriages licenses despite rulings from federal appeals courts that oversee them.

Gay marriage is legal in 32 other states.

Schmidt filed his case with the Kansas Supreme Court after the chief judge in Johnson County responded to last month’s U.S. Supreme Court action by ordering licenses to be issued to same-sex couples. A lesbian couple received one and quickly wed, becoming the only known same-sex Kansas couple to do so.