June 25, 2013

Obama "deeply disappointed" in Supreme Court decision on voting rights act

President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is "deeply disappointed" that the Supreme Court invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act requiring federal approval to change voting laws in places with a history of discrimination.

"For nearly 50 years, the Voting Rights Act – enacted and repeatedly renewed by wide bipartisan majorities in Congress – has helped secure the right to vote for millions of Americans," he said a statement. "Today’s decision invalidating one of its core provisions upsets decades of well-established practices that help make sure voting is fair, especially in places where voting discrimination has been historically prevalent. As a nation, we’ve made a great deal of progress towards guaranteeing every American the right to vote. But, as the Supreme Court recognized, voting discrimination still exists.

Obama urged Congress to pass legislation to guarantee voting.

"Today’s decision is a setback, it doesn’t represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination," he said. "I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls. My administration will continue to do everything in its power to ensure a fair and equal voting process."

March 27, 2013

Obama hopes Supreme Court treats same sex couples fairly

President Obama said Wednesday that he would not predict how the Supreme Court would rule on the issue of same sex marriage but that he hopes that couples are treated fairly and equally.

"I used to teach constitutional law and I think that there’s certainly a strong basis for determining that in fact in this age, given what we now know, given the changes that have been taking place in states around the country, that you know, same sex couples should be treated fairly and have the same rights to benefits and to being able to transfer property," Obama said in an interview with Univision taped at the White House. "All the rights and recognition that I think heterosexual couples do."

Obama last year became the first sitting U.S. president to endorse same-sex marriage. He opposes the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage even for couples married under state law. He says the 1996 law that defines marriage as between only one man and one woman is unconstitutional and directed the Justice Department to stop defending the law in court.

"I have wrestled with this issue and thought long and hard about this issue last year," he said. "I’ve announced that it was my conclusion that allowing same sex couples to marry was the right thing to do. It was consistent with America’s tradition of treating everybody equally...Obviously, public opinion has shifted dramatically just over the last several years. And my hope is, is that we will come to the place where everybody, you know, is treated fairly, and treated the same."

January 29, 2013

Guantanamo commissions: Whatever the CIA wants you to see

Over the past few years, after Obama failed to close Guantanamo, there's been a push to present the military commissions process there as reformed -- nothing like the extra-legal prosecution efforts of the Bush era, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the effort unconstitutional because Congress had not set it up. So the Obama administration and Congress came up with an improved regime, one more in keeping with what Americans would recognize as a court.

Today, we learned another way in which military commissions are different from any court the United States has seen before: Turns out the CIA has the ability to cut off the public's view of the proceedings without consulting with the judge, or anyone else.

That's apparently what happened Monday, to the shock of the judge, who apparently was unaware that anyone other than the court's security officer had the authority to censor courtroom exchanges. You can read The Miami Herald's Carol Rosenberg's account on what took place here.

Today, we learn who that someone is: the OCA or the Original Classification Authority -- in this case, the CIA. (You can see Rosenberg's account of today's commission testimony at her Twitter account here.)

Certainly, the Obama administration and Congress never publicly explained that this was how the commissions would work when they mandated in the Military Commission Act that the proceedings must be held in public. Obviously, it had not been explained to Judge Pohl or the defense attorneys, though the prosecution seemed to know.

What to do now? Rosenberg, after consulting with counsel, challenged the refusal to explain who had the authority to cut off the public's access to the courtroom. Here's what she filed with the commissions clerk:

To the Clerk of Military Commissions:

I am writing to you pursuant to Regulation 19-3 governing public access to commission proceedings, to object to the closure yesterday, January 28, 2013, of proceedings in United States v. Mohammad, et al.

Public access was denied to a portion of the proceedings by the termination of the video and audio feed, and this closure of the courtroom was imposed without any findings by the military judge authorizing it, as required by M.C.A. 949d(c) and R.M.C. 806.  As a reporter covering these proceedings, I object to this unauthorized denial of access and request a public explanation of the basis for the closure, a statement of the legal authority for the denial of public access, and an identification of the individual or organization that
closed the proceedings to the public.

I hereby request that you forward this objection to all counsel of record in the proceeding.    


  Will it make a difference? That remains to be seen. The Obama administration likes to say it's made the military commissions process transparent. But hiding the fact that all proceedings are overseen by an unnamed entity that can move outside the authority of the judge to censor the public's view of what's taking place is hardly transparent. It's difficult even to imagine that any entity has that authority in what passes for a quasi-judicial  proceeding, where the judge runs the courtroom.

January 15, 2013

Hoyer talks gun control

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer explained in detail at his weekly news conference his views on guns, noting that while virtually no one in Congress wants to take anyone's gun away.

But, he said, guns for war-like purposes are another matter.

Here are some of his comments:

"Nobody in the Congress that I know of -- maybe there is some but -- wants to take guns away from
individuals.  The Supreme Court has said the Second Amendment doesn't allow that anyway.  We respect that finding.  Or hunting rifles or rifles used for target practice.  But we are talking about guns that are specifically designed for war-like settings to kill a lot of people very quickly, and I think we ought to be able to deal with that, and we ought to be able to deal with the people who get access to guns..."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has expressed doubts whether an assault weapons ban could be passed by the Senate.

Asked about prospects in the House, Hoyer said, "I don't have an assessment right now.  I think that
has been the case.  I think based on past history you would say that is the case, but I think the American people -- I think democracy works."


July 16, 2012

A lot of Republicans don't like John Roberts any more

A lot of Republicans don't like John Roberts any more.

Since he sided with the majority in the June 28 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision upholding the 2010 health care law, his standing among the GOP has gone down, according to a new Gallup poll.


The July 9-12 survey found Roberts, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was viewed unfavorably by 44 percent of Republicans, up from 4 percent in September, 2005, after he joined the court.

But now, 27 percent of Republicans viewed him favorably. Among all surveyed, he was seen favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 29 percent. 

July 12, 2012

New poll finds mixed messages from public on health care

The public is sending mixed messages about its views of the 2010 federal health care law--making the potential impact on the November election hard to judge.

By a 55-36 percent margin, people think the law has a tax increase, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Most people have to obtain coverage by 2014 or face a penalty--or a tax, depending on one's point of view.

At the same time, voters said, by a 48-45 percent margin, they agreed with the June 28 Supreme Court ruling upholding the law.

Yet by 49-43 percent, they want it repealed. The House of Representatives Wednesday voted for repeal on a largely party line vote. The Democratic-run Senate is not expected to go along.

55 percent said a presidential candidate's views on health care matter. 59 percent said the court's decision will not affect their vote. But 27 percent said it would make them less likely to vote for President Barack Obama, while 12 percent said an Obama vote was more likely.

Obama is a strong supporter of the law; Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants it repealed.

More mixed messages: People split 48-47 percent on whether coverage should be compulsory.

"The big question," said assistant poll director Peter Brown, "is whether the Republicans can sell the idea to voters that the president's Affordable Care Act breaks his promise not to raise taxes on those who make less than $250,000. That's why what voters believe on this issue matters."

From July 1 - 8, Quinnipiac University surveyed 2,722 registered voters with a margin of error of +/- 1.9 percentage points.  Live interviewers call land lines and cell phones.

July 03, 2012

Republicans set hearing on court health ruling Tuesday

The Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee plans to hold a hearing Tuesday "to explore the implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the individual mandate is constitutional, particularly as it relates to Congress’s authority to lay and collect new taxes."

The court Thursday upheld most of the 2010 federal health care law, which Republicans leaders have vowed to try to repeal. A vote is expected July 11 in the House of Representatives, where Republicans have a 242 to 191 majority.

The previous day, Ways and Means will have the hearing.

“I strongly disagree with the Court’s decision and its holding that Congress can tax Americans who choose not to purchase government-approved health insurance," said Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in a statement.

"This ruling sets a dangerous precedent with potentially enormous consequences.  As the tax-writing committee of the U.S. House of Representatives – where, under the Constitution, all revenue measures must originate – we have a responsibility to fully understand the Court’s interpretation of Congress’s taxing authority and what that means for potential actions taken by future Congresses, the future of our country and the relationship that the government has with the American people.”

Democrats get healthy boost from health care ruling

Looks like the Supreme Court health care ruling last week is paying off for Democrats.

The party's congressional campaign committee, which works for House of Representatives candidates, has raised $2.3 million from about 65,000 donations since court upheld most of the 2010 federal health care law Thursday.

The average contribution was $35. Saturday was the single biggest grassroots’ fundraising day in the campaign group's history. Republicans now have a 242 to 191 House majority; 218 seats are needed for control.


June 25, 2012

Justice Scalia delivers a barb at President Obama's immigration policy

Dissenting from the court's ruling that struck down major parts of a controversial immigration law, Justice Antonin Scalia today criticized the Obama administration for moving recently to stop deporting young, illegal immigrants.

He noted that while the court was considering the Arizona case, the administration announced it would exempt from immigration enforcement "some 1.4 million illegal immigrants.

"The president has said that the new program is 'the right thing to do' in light of congress's failure to pass the administration's proposed revision of the immigration laws," Scalia said. "Perhaps it is, though Arizona may not think so. But to say, as the court does, that Arizona contradicts federal law by enforcing applications of federal immigration law that the president declines to enforce boggles the mind."

And Scalia continued, "there has come to pass and is with us today, the specter that Arizona and the states that support it predicted: A federal government that does not want to enforce the immigration laws as written, and leaves the states' borders unprotected against immigrants whom those laws exclude."

He suggested that if the federal government had tried a similar tactic during the country's founding: "The delegates to the Grand Convention would have rushed to the exits from Independence Hall."

Health insurers offer reminders of state experiences

Anticipation is growing over the Supreme Court's likely ruling on the 2010 federal health care law, which could come as soon as Monday morning. The decision is expected some time this week.

The health insurance industry is offering a set of fact sheets and grafics just in case, but makes this argument about the impact of having no individual mandate, the cornerstone of the 2010 law:

"Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires health plans to cover everyone, including those with pre-existing conditions, and does not allow premiums to vary based on a person’s health status," America's Health Insurance Plans said in a release to reporters Monday.

"Without requiring everyone to purchase and maintain coverage, there is a powerful incentive for people to wait and purchase insurance only after they get sick or injured.  In the 1990’s, several states tried insurance market reforms without covering everyone and it failed.  Premiums increaseddramatically, consumers and employers had fewer coverage choices, and the number of uninsured increased."

For more information:TheLink.AHIP.org



"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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