Towards a More Just Judiciary: Openly Gay Judges May Be Coming to a Court Near You!

Eric Lesh | Lambda Legal | January 18, 2013

A new normal is emerging in courts in some states across the country as openly gay judges continue to be nominated to serve at the highest levels of the judiciary. There is no better example of this rapid progress than the recent change of hearts and minds in Virginia.

It was only last summer that Virginia made headlines after the House of Delegates blocked the nomination of openly gay prosecutor, Tracy Thorne-Begland, to serve as a judge on the District Court of Richmond. Now, just six months later, the Republican-controlled House voted overwhelming to confirm him to a full six-year term on the bench.

In rejecting Thorne-Begland’s nomination last year, many legislators cited his sexual orientation and discharge from the Navy for coming out 20 years ago under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” as an impediment to his ability to remain impartial and uphold the law. This time, the political climate changed so drastically that the legislature did not even feel the need to hold open debate when it took up Thorne-Begland’s judgeship.

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3 Reasons the Election Rigging Scandal Is Not Dead

Ian Millhiser | ThinkProgress | Reader Supported News | January 31, 2013

Two weeks ago, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus called upon “states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red” to consider a Republican plan to rig future presidential races. Under the GOP plan, these blue states would stop awarding electoral votes to the winner of the state as a whole, and instead would award them one-by-one to the winner of each congressional district. Because these districts are highly gerrymandered to favor Republicans, the election-rigging plan ensures that Republicans will win the overwhelming majority of the electoral votes in these blue states regardless of how the people of those states cast their votes.

Six states potentially fit Priebus’ description of a blue state that is currently controlled by Republicans – Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. To date, senior Republicans in four of these states have either voted down the plan or indicated that it will not be taken up in the first place, and the governor of a fifth state has expressed concerns about the plan:

So the Republican Plan is officially dead in one state and lacks the support of essential lawmakers in three states. Of the two states where it is decidedly still alive – Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – the top Republican in one of those states says he has concerns about the plan. Nevertheless, supporters of democracy should not break out the champagne yet because there are three reasons to be frightened that the plan could reemerge.

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Chuck Hagel and Murder in Vietnam

Nick Turse | TomDispatch | Reader Supported News | January 31, 2013

He’s been battered by big-money conservative groups looking to derail his bid for secretary of defense.  Critics say he wants to end America’s nuclear program.  They claim he’s anti-Israel and soft on Iran.  So you can expect intense questioning  –  if only for theatrical effect  –  about all of the above (and undoubtedly then some) as Chuck Hagel faces his Senate confirmation hearings today.

You can be sure of one other thing: Hagel’s military service in Vietnam will be mentioned  –  and praised. It’s likely, however, to be in a separate and distinct category, unrelated to the pointed questions about current issues like defense priorities, his beliefs on the use of force abroad, or the Defense Department’s role in counterterrorism operations.  You can also be sure of this: no senator will ask Chuck Hagel about his presence during the machine-gunning of an orphanage in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or the lessons he might have drawn from that incident.

Nor is any senator apt to ask what Hagel might do if allegations about similar acts by American troops emerge in Afghanistan or elsewhere.  Nor will some senator question him on the possible parallels between the CIA-run Phoenix Program, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese venture focused on identifying and killing civilians associated with South Vietnam’s revolutionary shadow government, and the CIA’s current targeted-killing-by-drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands.  Nor, for that matter, is he likely to be asked about the lessons he learned fighting a war in a foreign land among a civilian population where innocents and enemies were often hard to tell apart.  If, however, Hagel’s military experience is to be touted as a key qualification for his becoming secretary of defense, shouldn’t the American people have some idea of just what that experience was really like and how it shaped his thinking in regard to today’s wars?

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Who Will Legalize Pot Next?

Kristen Gwynne | The Nation | January 30, 2013

In Barack Obama: The Story, biographer David Maraniss writes that the president spent his youth in Hawaii getting stoned on a paved road up Mount Tantalus, where he took “roof hits” in smoke-filled cars with his friends, the Choom Gang. (To “choom” is Hawaiian slang for smoking marijuana.) Obama loved weed so much, Maraniss writes, he thanked his pot dealer, but not his mother, in his high school yearbook.

Decades later, the Choomer turned president is in a historically unprecedented position when it comes to drug policy in the United States. Marijuana is illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, but two states, Washington and Colorado, voted in November to legalize and regulate its sale and use by adults 21 and older. This conflict with federal law puts all eyes on Obama, who, despite his smoke-filled teenage years, has refused to consider marijuana legalization as an alternative to prohibition. Indeed, drug policy reformers have endured a rocky four years (to put it mildly) in their relationship with the Obama administration. That’s why, when the president told Barbara Walters in December that his administration had “bigger fish to fry” than prosecuting recreational users of state-legal pot, legalization advocates took that statement with a grain of salt. The last time Obama said he would allow the states to determine their own policies on medical marijuana, he ended up busting more state-sanctioned dispensaries than George W. Bush.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is confident that the recent state-level legalization victories mark a “turning point” that will inspire more politicians and voters to become curious, even passionate, about marijuana policy. “It’s causing lawmakers to rethink this issue,” Nadelmann says, adding that political risk is “the same reason the White House said nothing about the ballot initiatives in Washington and Colorado before the election.”

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The Numbers Just Don’t Add Up on Immigration Reform

George Zornick | The Nation | January 31, 2013

Inside Washington on Monday, the realest talk on comprehensive immigration reform came around 3:45 in the afternoon, an hour after the “Gang of Eight” released its comprehensive immigration reform proposal.

That’s when Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama walked onto the floor of the Senate and started throwing ice-cold water on all this highfalutin immigration talk:

In 2006 and 2007, with the full support of the Republican president of the United States, a bipartisan committee announced with great confidence they had a plan that’s going to fix our immigration system, and we were all just going to line up and vote for it. The masters of the universe decided.

They met in secret, they had all the special interest groups gather, and they worked out a plan that was going to change our immigration system for the better. And we should all be grateful.

It came up in 2006; it did not pass. It came back in 2007 with even more emphasis; it failed colossally. It failed because it did not do what they said it would do. It did not end the illegality. It did not set forth a proper principle of immigration for America, it did not sufficiently alter the nature of our immigration system to advance the national interest of the United States. It did not. And that’s why it didn’t pass.

It had all the powerful forces—it had the TV guys and newspaper guys and the Wall Street guys and the agriculture guys and the civil rights groups and the La Raza groups and the politicians. But the American people said no.

If you substitute “my overwhelmingly white, Southern constituents” for “the American people,” that is indeed exactly what happened. And it is quite likely to happen again. When one examines polls of Republican voters on immigration reform, and then looks at how many Congressional seats are held by the GOP, it is sadly easy to see that despite all the rosy talk, real immigration reform will remain elusive.

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The Supremes’ Greatest Hits: 5 Supreme Court Cases That Rocked The Gay World

Dan Avery | Queerty | January 31. 2013

The Supreme Court 2011

In March, the Supreme Court is set to hear two marriage-equality  cases—Hollingsworth v. Perry and Edie Windsor v. U.S. We don’t  know how the Gang on Nine will rule, so we decided to pull up some case  histories and see how the Court has addressed the LGBT community to date.

Looking at this list, it does seem as if SCOTUS is evolving toward  equality—but, then again, they’ve never directly weighed in on same-sex  marriage.

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Hagel Pinky-Swears To Be Good About Gays During Confirmation Hearings

Dan Avery | Queerty | January 31, 2013

Senate confirmation hearings have begun for Chuck Hagel, President  Obama’s pick for Defense Secretary, and the former lawmaker insists he’ll make  ensuring equal treatment for all service members a “high priority.”

Responding to an inquiry from Sen. Mark Udall (D-O), Hagel said he supports  the policy to allow military chaplains to perform same-sex ceremonies in states  where they are legal. “All men and women deserve the same rights.”

Opposition to Hagel from Big Gay seems to be abating as he doubles down on  his promise that he’s evolved from 1998, when he criticized the nomination of  Ambassador James Hormel  because Hormel was “aggressively gay.”

Use Your Mandate, a mysterious LGBT group still focusing on blocking the  Hagel confirmation, has been questioned for its ties to Republican Party. Reports  the New York Times:

Portraying itself as a gay rights group, [Use Your Mandate] has sent mailers  to voters in seven states — including New York, New Jersey, Maryland and  Montana — and run television ads against Mr. Hagel in New York and Washington.  It has  sent out posts on Twitter questioning his gay rights record and asking, “Is this  what we worked so hard for?”

Established gay rights activists have expressed skepticism about the group’s  authenticity. It has no Web site and it only lists as its address a post office  box in New York. But paperwork filed with the Federal Communications  Commission link it back to Tusk Strategies, a bipartisan political group  founded  by Bradley Tusk, a former strategist for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of  New  York.

In an interview, Mr. Tusk would only identify its financiers as Democratic “gay and L.G.B.T. people who have been active in campaigns around the  country.”

Yet federal records show that Use Your Mandate uses Del Cielo Media, an arm  of one of the most prominent Republican ad-buying firms in the country, Smart  Media, with clients that have included the presidential campaigns of former  Gov.  Jon M. Huntsman Jr. of Utah and Senator John McCain of Arizona; the 2010  Senate  campaign of Christine O’Donnell, who was known for positions against  homosexuality, in Delaware; and, as it happens, the Emergency Committee for  Israel.

Boy, those Republicans will get into bed with anyone won’t  they?

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Political Power Needs to Be Used

New York Times | Readers Supported News | January 31, 2013

If ever there were a moment for Democrats to press their political advantage, this is it. Their message on many of the biggest national issues – taxes, guns, education spending, financial regulation – has widespread support, and they have increased their numbers in both houses of Congress. But after years of being out-yelled by strident right-wing ideologues, too many in the Democratic Party still have a case of nerves, afraid of bold action and forthright principles.

That’s particularly evident in the Senate, which the party controls. Last week, Democrats had a rare opportunity to change the Senate’s rules by majority vote and reduce the routine abuse of the filibuster by Republicans, which has allowed a minority to slow progress to a crawl. But there weren’t enough Democrats to support real reform, so a disappointing half-measure was approved. The reason was fear: Fear that they might return to the minority one day, fear that a weakened filibuster might hurt them, fear that Republicans might change the rules to the disadvantage of Democrats if they regain a majority.

Similarly, fear is preventing many Democrats from fully embracing President Obama’s sensible and long-overdue proposals on curbing gun violence. A proposal to require background checks on all gun buyers – the top priority of most gun-control groups because of its effect on handgun proliferation – is beginning to win strong bipartisan support. But Democrats from swing states – including Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader – are backing away from a bill to ban semiautomatic assault weapons, and it is not clear if the Senate will vote to prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines.

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