SCOTUS Rejects NRA and Gun Fanatics’ Appeal

It is probably true that gun fanatics and the National Rifle Association were as pleased at Trump’s ascendancy to the White House as evangelical fanatics, racists, and the billionaire class. With a rubber stamp in the White House, Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and another NRA advocate on the Supreme Court, the gun nuts and the NRA never expected to suffer another defeat late last week at the hands of the High Court.

There is such a dearth of anything remotely resembling good news in Trump’s America that it was refreshing to learn from the good folks at SCOTUSblog that the Supreme Court rejected hearing two separate appeals from gun advocates. It is likely that the High Court is cognizant of the two most recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas, and instead of being accused of having more blood on their ‘supreme’  hands, the Court steered clear of the gun debate for now and put off allowing more “weapons of war” on the streets.

One of the appeals sought to overturn a Maryland state ban on assault weapons, and the other attempted to overturn Florida’s ban on open carry firearms. What was noteworthy in both denials was that unlike a decision last June in a case denying an appeal to overturn a California ban on open carry “outside the home for self-defense,” the High Court’s denials “were not accompanied by any public comments from the Justices.” In that June denial, Justices Clarence Thomas and NRA champion Neil Gorsuch lashed out at California’s open carry ban as a flagrant attack on the Second Amendment.

In the Maryland case, Kolbe v. Hogan, several Second Amendment groups, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), challenged the right of the Maryland state legislature to ban “semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines.” The bans were enacted in the wake of the 2012 massacre of 20 little children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. It is noteworthy the 5 and 6 year old children and their adult teachers were slaughtered with “the most popular semi-automatic rifle” among Maryland gun extremists.

Maryland gun lovers, gun sellers and organizations supported by the NRA challenged the ban on the grounds that assault weapons like those used in the Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Texas massacres “are the most popular semi-automatic rifles for self-defense.” It is noteworthy that the ban also included “detachable magazines” that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds; what the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals accurately labeled are indisputably “weapons of war.”

In that ruling, Appellate Judge Robert King wrote for the majority:

We have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war that the Heller decision explicitly excluded from such coverage. Both before and after Newtown, similar military-style rifles and detachable magazines have been used to perpetrate mass shootings in places whose names have become synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there.

We are convinced that the banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines are among those arms that are ‘like’ ‘M-16 rifles’ — ‘weapons that are most useful in military service’ — which the Heller Court singled out as being beyond the Second Amendment’s reach.”

The Fourth Circuit ruling also noted that four other federal courts have upheld similar bans in four other states based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Heller.” They certainly didn’t dare say that allowing more battlefield weapons on the streets was an idiotic idea; even federal appellate judges comprehend there is only so far they are permitted to challenge the NRA’s authority and agenda without harsh repercussions.

In the  2008 Supreme Court ruling in “Heller” the justices ruled specifically that states and cities were legally able to “ban the M-16 rifle, a military version of the AR-15;” the battlefield gun NRA-supporters claim is a life-and-death necessity in the home if they are equipped with detachable high-capacity magazines like those used in the theatre of war. Maybe conditions and interpersonal relationships in gun fanatics’ homes are so contentious that it feels like a battlefield, but a 12-gauge or Glock should be more than sufficient for self-defense in the home.

The gun advocates were certain the NRA-friendly conservatives on the High Court would rule in their favor, so they argued that the Maryland legislature acted unfairly. Their argument also suggested the Maryland legislature and Fourth Circuit Appeals Court had disregarded the safety and lives of “law-abiding citizens” in their homes. They stated:

Maryland has banned the most popular semiautomatic rifles and magazines — arms that are indisputably in common use for self-defense — from the homes of law-abiding citizens.”

It is noteworthy that those semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines are also indisputably the most popular and commonly used weapons to commit mass murders. A weapon’s popularity among gun fanatics and mass murderers is no reason to allow even one more in the population.

In the second case, Norman v. Florida, a man challenged the state’s ban on open carry in public. Florida allows “concealed carry” in public, but that doesn’t allow gun advocates to show off their personal  “firepower” to impress fellow Floridians in public places.

The Florida case stemmed from the 2012  arrest of a man, Dale Lee Norman, for walking around in public with a sidearm on his hip like a Wild West gunslinger. As Bloomberg News noted, the state of Florida permits any resident to carry around “a licensed handgun outside the home,” but those guns have to be concealed. Florida state officials told the High Court that Florida, South Carolina and Illinois are the only states in the nation that “allow carrying concealed weapons in public,” but bans gun fanatics from showing off those weapons. If there is one thing gun fanatics seem to enjoy more than owning “weapons,” it is carrying them openly to show they are “real Americans.”

Although the High Court denying appeals that challenged sane gun safety laws is good news, it may be short-lived depending on how soon the next mass shooting occurs. Gun proliferation advocates are not going to give up so easily and Republicans in the House are currently pushing more gun legislation written by the NRA.

The current Second Amendment legislation makes it legal for gun enthusiasts to carry their concealed weapons across state lines without restrictions from states banning concealed or open carry. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) lambasted Republicans for “doing the bidding” of the NRA that designated making universal concealed carry its highest legislative priority in Trump’s America. Ms. Pelosi said:

Two months after two of the most deadly shootings in modern American history, Republicans are brazenly moving to hand the NRA the biggest item on its Christmas wish list.”

Ms. Pelosi is right, of course, but she is no more surprised at Republican pandering to the NRA than any other semi-conscious American. In the same way Republicans exist to serve the financial, religious, and fossil fuel sectors at the expense of the people’s welfare, they will move the proverbial “heaven and Earth” to aid the NRA put more guns on the streets. There is no doubt whatsoever the Republican “gun proliferation” legislation will pass with votes to spare and set the stage for the National Rifle Association’s likely next “top legislative priority;” a federal law making weapons of war and high-capacity magazines legal in all public places to supersede sane city and state laws banning assault weapons.

Americans shouldn’t celebrate this minor setback to the NRA or gun proliferation advocates for very long, if at all. Remember, Republicans own the government lock, stock, and barrel and barring an increase in the frequency of mass shootings in America, they will unleash more weapons of war on America. And the conservative Supreme Court will duly serve their NRA masters and rule that the gun lobby is a person with rights protected under the First and Second Amendments. If anyone doesn’t believe it, consider the conservative court has already ruled in Hobby Lobby that birth control pills are abortions, and in Citizens United that multi-national corporations are people with constitutional rights. This is a new America and nothing is out of bounds if it serves the interests of the people buying Republican votes.

SCOTUS Aids Theocratic Coup d’état

 

As America nears another anniversary of its Declaration of Independence from an empire heavily influenced by a powerful theocracy, advocates for America under a theocratic government celebrated a major step towards their goal; a nation of the bible, for the evangelicals, and governed by the Christian religion. There is little doubt that the Founding Fathers and Constitution’s Framers would be appalled that the deliberately secular government they created inched closer to officially compelling Americans to support a religion. Indeed, it was the Declaration of Independence’s author, Founding Father, Constitution Framer, and  3rd President Thomas Jefferson who said that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

Republicans and their evangelical masters believe Thomas Jefferson was an abomination to theocrats everywhere. They also fiercely believe that despite the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment, and well over two-thirds of state Constitutions’ blunt prohibitions on “spending any public money on any church, sect, or denomination of religion,” that Americans must be compelled by force of law to provide “support for religious worship, places, and ministries.

One of those states with prohibitions against using public money to support churches, sects and any denomination of religion is Missouri. Missouri’s Constitution, according to evangelicals, was abhorrent; especially after a few federal courts upheld the Missouri Constitution’s prohibition on using taxpayer money to support religion. So the aspiring theocrats appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution, and thirty-six state constitutions are unfair to religious organizations because they cannot compel taxpayers to support places of worship.

It is noteworthy that although greed is a mortal sin in the Christian religion, the churches are not satisfied taking well over $82.5 billion annually (2013) on top of the over $28 billion in “faith-based initiatives” from taxpayers “compelled” to support religion. They demand that taxpayers pay for private religious schools and want more of their dollars.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court added to those horrific dollar amounts in what appears to be a small way, but they also opened the door for ungodly amounts of taxpayer money to be stolen from public eduction to fund private religious schools. The High Court ruled that it was unfair, and one seriously nasty form of religious persecution, for Missouri’s Constitution to forbid a religious school from taking taxpayer money to improve its playground. It may seem like a small thing, compelling taxpayers to fund improvements for a religious organization’s property, but it was the opening evangelical school choice advocates, and evangelical Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, demanded to compel public schools to “promote god’s kingdom” by government fiat and with taxpayer money.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos celebrated the Trinity decision as a victory for the taxpayer-funded religious school choice movement, which has gained momentum and stands to expand under the Trump administration.

Trump’s budget features a $1.4 billion religious school choice package that includes millions of taxpayer dollars for evangelical families to send their children to private, for profit religious schools.

DeVos is a staunch and lifelong advocate for compelling  taxpayers to fund private, for-profit religious schools. She is also a notorious evangelical and public education enemy who attended and sent her children to private religious schools; likely because they met her requirement that schools exist to “promote god’s kingdom.”

DeVos said the High Court decision affirmed her belief that  “religious discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment;” unless of course religion drives discrimination against people of color and the LGBTQ community, then DeVos tolerates “religious discrimination.” She said after the Trinity ruling was announced:

We should all celebrate the fact that [bible-based] programs designed to help students will no longer be discriminated against by the government based solely on religious affiliation.”

DeVos wasn’t the only evangelical celebrating a ruling that opened the door for compelling Americans to support a religion, place, or ministry. The senior attorney for the Institute for Justice who represents evangelicals who couldn’t convince authorities in Colorado to compel taxpayers  to pay for religious school tuition through scholarship grants, Michael Bindas said:

This is a tremendous development for [religious] school choice. It shows the court takes the principle of neutrality toward religion in public benefits programs very seriously. We’re very confident that the Colorado Supreme Court may come to the correct decision.”

Evangelicals claimed that Colorado’s Constitution, and its Supreme Court’s judgement that the state’s Choice Scholarship Program’s  prohibited public funding to “ support or sustain any school that is controlled by any church or sectarian denomination” was patently unfair to evangelicals. The Colorado evangelicals are demanding the Colorado Supreme Court correct their error and start compelling all Colorado taxpayers to “financially support a religion, place of worship, and ministry.

It is always a mystery why so-called Constitutional advocates in the Republican movement are intent on compelling Americans to pay for religious instruction with money appropriated for public schools. This week Kentucky governor and evangelical malcontent Matt Bevin signed a bill into law legalizing bible-courses disguised as social studies in the state’s public school system. Bevin said at a signing ceremony:

The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy. I don’t know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this.”

To answer Bevin’s question; every state and the nation is not embracing compelling taxpayers to pay for “religious instruction, places of worship, or bible classes” because it is patently unconstitutional, and not all Americans are religious welfare queens. The Kentucky religious imposition bill demands that religious classes “must discuss all aspects of the Christian bible because they are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture.”

The evangelical zealots in Kentucky’s Republican legislature and governor’s office claim that teaching the Christian bible is the only way for students “to get a better insight on the structure of the country.” One Republican advocate for compelling taxpayers to  support “a ministrysaid the law will “help educate our kids on the background of how they came up with our founding documents.” Founding documents, by the way, that make absolutely no mention of the Christian bible, the Christian religion, or how religion was used in developing the “structure the country” because they did not.

The SCOTUS ruling this week, although seemingly harmless, is being touted as probably the most important High Court ruling all year and that is no exaggeration. It gave evangelicals the opening they have lusted after to tear down the wall of separation the Founders installed in the Constitution to protect the population from a theocracy. The immediate celebratory comments by DeVos and evangelicals intent on “compelling Americans to support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever” informs that not only was the SCOTUS ruling significant, it was a dangerous step towards a government ruled by an evangelical theocracy.

SCOTUS Deals a Blow To Anti-Democracy North Carolina Republicans

 

At a juncture in the nation’s history when a corrupt fascist in the White House is beginning his own serious attack on the right to vote and democracy, this time in oppressing the right to vote, there was a surprising but welcomed bit of good news for voters; at least voters in North Carolina. The Republican dominated state and its anti-democracy legislature had led the nation in imposing Jim Crow-type laws specifically targeting African Americans voting rights because they are less-inclined to vote for Republicans.

Civil rights groups have spent no small amount of time and money fighting to stop the blatant vote suppression tactics favored by the Koch brothers’ legislative arm ALEC; particularly in North Carolina. The various democracy-loving groups were likely worried that when the conservative Supreme Court heard this particular case, their battle would be finished and Republicans would have prevailed even after losing at the appellate court level.

There is little doubt voting rights organizations tempered their celebration after the 4th Circuit Court struck down the Republican voter suppression laws as patently unconstitutional. Republicans, especially North Carolina Republicans, have demonstrated that they will not countenance any attempts or court rulings meant to advance the cause of democracy and rule against voter suppression tactics.

In a surprising decision, the Supreme Court left in place a federal appeals court ruling that struck down key parts of North Carolina’s hateful voting laws. The Appellate Court had found the Republican voter suppression laws unconstitutional because, like Jim Crow, it specifically targeted African American voters unfairly and “imposed cures for problems that never existed.” As anyone concerned about the failing state of America’s barely breathing democracy, to state that the High Court’s ruling is a major victory for civil rights groups, people of color and the democratic process in North Carolina is a minor understatement.

The High Court decision let stand the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that North Carolina Republicans had acted “with almost surgical precision” to shut down African American voting rights in the state. In writing for the 4th Circuit striking down the law, Judge Diana Gribbon Mott said that not only did the ALEC-devised law “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” it “impose[d] cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.” Of course the North Carolina Republicans’ “true motivation” was restricting voting rights of any North Carolinian who is not a white evangelical.

North Carolina led the nation in anti-democratic voting laws after the conservatives on the Supreme Court abolished a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act In 2013, and eliminated any federal oversight over the former Confederate states with a history of naked discrimination against African American voters. And according to the reaction from North Carolina’s Republican legislature, they are not finished building on their history of vote suppression and pledged to “enact new voting restrictions” despite the Courts’ rulings or any silly Voting Rights Act.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) joined president pro-tempore of the Senate Phil Berger (R) and issued a joint statement saying:

All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote.”

It is noteworthy that there have been absolutely zero cases of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina without the Republicans’ nasty law.  It is also worth remarking that the 4th Circuit decision noted that as far as voter identification is concerned, the N.C. Republican voter identification provision “retained only those types of photo ID held by whites and deliberately excluded, disproportionately, those held by African Americans.

The Appellate Court also said that Republicans “failed to identify even one single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.” However, it did find a fair amount of evidence of fraud in absentee voting by mail; the preferred method “used disproportionately by white voters” because the voter ID law does not apply to mail-in or absentee voting.

Although anti-democracy Republicans were disappointed at the High Court’s decision, civil and voting rights groups were understandably pleased. For example, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, Daniel T. Donovan said, “This is the law of the land in the Fourth Circuit.”

The Director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho said, “An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing.”

And North Carolina’s new Democratic Governor Roy Cooper issued a statement saying,

Today’s announcement is good news for North Carolina voters. We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”

Although this is good news all around for the democratic process in North Carolina, and a blow to North Carolina Republican attempts to suppress African Americans’ right to vote, it is noteworthy to mention that the fight to participate in democracy is not yet over for North Carolina African Americans. As Chief Justice John Roberts noted, yesterday’s decision not to hear or rule on the case does “not necessarily” set a legal precedent and does not mean the conservative court will not endorse and legalize Jim Crow laws in the future. In fact, history and conventional wisdom informs that the conservative majority will legalize Jim Crow to aid Republican electoral chances.

However, today in North Carolina there is reason to celebrate and in these darkest of days for America’s waning democracy, even a temporary blow to fascist Republicans is one all Americans should savor. Because with Trump setting his sights with an anti-democracy zealot Khris Kobach on making it nearly impossible to cast a ballot for anyone except white Christians, there is every reason to believe that North Carolina’s hateful voter suppression law will be the model for a national law criminalizing people of color even attempting to participate in democracy.