There is a quiet effort to pin the failings of Democrats to beat a Tea Party candidate in the 2011 special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s House seat in NY District 9 on the passage of the same-sex marriage law in NY State. However though a small number of voters may have voted on this as their prime issue, the history of previous Congressional elections in that district prove that support of LGBT issues including marriage do not jeopardize Democratic candidates.
In 1998, Congressional-member Charles Schumer beat incumbent Senator Al D’Amato and a special election was held to fill Schumer’s seat in the 9th district. As Democrats have held the seat since the 1920’s the Democratic Primary was seen as the de-facto election to fill the seat. The Democratic primary contenders were city council-member Anthony Weiner who previously served as Schumer’s Chief of Staff, former NY Assemblywoman and City Council Member Melinda Katz from the Queens portion of the district (also a strong record on LGBT issues) and Noach Dear, a NY City Council-member from the Brooklyn side a former City Council-member and ultra-Orthodox Jew who has been a very outspoken anti-LGBT bigot.
Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings kicked off on Monday. Her nomination has been met by glum resignation on the left and indifference on the right, as Adam Serwer notes in the American Prospect. Kagan is hoping to replace the Supreme Court’s most prominent liberal, Justice John Paul Stevens, who stepped down earlier this week. Progressives are counting on Kagan to shore up the pro-choice faction on the court.
Kagan has never been a judge and she hasn’t published very many academic law opinions. As a result, the confirmation process is leaning heavily on her counsels to President Bill Clinton as a White House adviser, her clerkship with legendary liberal Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and her stint as Dean of Harvard Law School.
Kagan on choice
RH Reality Check has video of a key exchange in Kagan’s confirmation hearing yesterday, in which Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) pressed Kagan on her views about life and health exemptions for the mother within abortion bans.
“Do you believe the constitution requires that the health of the mother be protected in any statute restricting access to abortion?” Feinstein asked Kagan.
“Senator Feinstein, I do think that the continuing holding of Roe and Doe v. Bolton is that women’s life and women’s health have to be protected in abortion regulation,” Kagan replied.
That’s a good start, but it’s hardly the ringing endorsement of choice that progressives would have hoped. Kagan went on to talk the special case of “partial birth abortion bans,” which she encouraged Bill Clinton to support while he was president. “Partial birth abortion” isn’t even a medical term. It’s a marketing term coined by anti-choicers in their bid to chip away at Roe v. Wade. For pro-choicers, it’s disappointing to see Kagan uncritically buying into that frame.
Title X and the Gag Order
Jodi Jacobson discusses Kagan’s record on choice issues in greater detail at RH Reality Check. She notes that the Center for Reproductive Rights reviewed Kagan’s record and raised many questions about her views on abortion. On the bright side, CRR believes that Kagan would have struck down the Title X gag rule. Title X was established in 1970 to provide public funding for reproductive health care, including birth control.
In 1988, the Secretary of Health and Human Services imposed a so-called “gag rule” that prevented doctors from talking about abortion and required them to refer patients to services for the welfare of “the unborn.” Kagan argued in a 1992 law review article that the gag order violated the First Amendment because the government was trying to silence one point of view while promoting another.
However, in a memo for Justice Thurgood Marshall, Kagan said it was “ludicrous” that a lower court found that the Eighth Amendment guarantees elective abortions for women in prison. Kagan disagreed with the lower court’s finding that elective abortions are “serious medical needs.”
Obamacare all over again
A Supreme Court confirmation hearing is like Shark Week on the Learning Channel. Chum’s up!
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) criticized Kagan for rejecting the fringe legal theory of “tentherism,” a position that opponents of health care reform have used to argue that Obamacare is unconstitutional. As Ian Millhiser observes in AlterNet, it’s ironic that Sessions also criticized Kagan as an incipient “activist judge.” Embracing “tentherism” would be nothing if not judicial activism. It’s extremely unlikely that any tenther-based challenge would make it to the Supreme Court.
Outside the Senate chamber, anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera is demanding to know whether Dean Kagan schemed to allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice, reports Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones.
Some Republican senators questioned Kagan about her decision to bar military recruiters from school-sponsored recruiting events at Yale Law School over Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. On the outside, a Yale grad and Republican activist named Flagg Youngblood has taken to the talkshow circuit to complain about how he had to attend ROTC drills at another school. It’s not clear why any of this is Kagan’s problem, seeing as she was Dean of Harvard and took a much weaker stance on military recruiting.
That’s not cooling Youngblood’s apocalyptic anti-Kagan rhetoric, though, Adam Weinstein reports in Mother Jones. “In the last 18 months, the president and his plotting comrades have dragged the United States to the edge of Constitutional oblivion. America’s in the eleventh hour, and Elena Obama must be stopped from pushing us over the cliff,” Youngblood recently proclaimed.
Part of the plan
Meanwhile in Nevada, Republican Senate hopeful Sharron Angle is in hot water for asserting that women who get pregnant through rape must be forced to give birth because these pregnancies are all part of God’s plan. Good catch by Vanessa Valenti of Feministing.
“You know, I’m a Christian, and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things,” Angle said in an interview with a conservative broadcaster in January.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.
This week in a San Francisco Federal District Court, a legal odd couple will be on display. Attorney David Boies, who represented Al Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous 2000 case ofBush v. Gore, and conservative attorney Ted Olson, who represented George W. Bush, are joining forces to overturn California's Proposition 8. It will be their contention that the initiative passed by voters in 2008 banning same-sex marriage in the Golden State violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution, singles out gays and lesbians for a disfavored legal status, and discriminates on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
Regardless of which side prevails, experts agree the case is likely to be appealed all the way to the highest court in the land.
Uganda, like most of the countries in Africa, is full of contradictions.
While everyone we met in Uganda was friendly and helpful, going out of their way to assist us when we needed directions, a Wifi hotspot, or a place to find vegetarian food, the country also has some of the most restrictive laws against human rights on the continent. While we were there, the "Bahati Bill" was introduced in parliament. The Bahati called for life in prison -- and in some case the death penalty -- for people found “guilty” of homosexual activity.
As gay marriage laws are passed around the world, including most recently in Mexico City, it's hard to believe that lawmakers would punish people for being gay or having HIV/AIDS. The Bahati bill also punishes anyone who fails to report a homosexual act committed by others with up to three years in jail, and a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, due to mounting pressure from governments such as the United States, across Europe, and in Canada, said that he opposes the measure, and would attempt to try and soften the bill. According to a recent story in Reuters, “the president has been quoted in local media saying homosexuality is a Western import, joining continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.” With a national election looming in 2012, politicians seem to be using hatred against gays as a scapegoat for rising corruption and the weakening of civil liberties and freedom of the press.
Yet, even the possibility that a watered-down version of the proposed law could be passed, is an alarming sign of a dangerous trend of prejudice all over Africa. In Blantyre, Malawi, for example, a gay couple was arrested last week after having a traditional engagement ceremony. Homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in jail in Malawi
However, human rights advocates continue to fight. In Latin America, they hope that the success of legalized marriage in Mexico City will spread to Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other places. Uruguay permits gay parents to adopt and Columbia grants social security rights to same sex couples.
In the United States, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender rights is one of the most import civil and human rights battles we currently face. Despite recent setbacks in California, New York, and Maine -- recent success in places like Iowa, DC, and New Hampshire -- means that during next decade the battlefield for LGBT rights is not only in Africa but also right here at home.
Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. But her story is also one of hope for change. Watch the video now.
While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.
Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.
Listen to Esmeralda's voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.