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US Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Same-Sex Benefits Case

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Decision Comes One Day Before SCOTUS Hears Pivotal Anti-Gay Wedding Cake Baker’s Case 

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case from Houston’s appeal of a lower court ruling that said the right to a marriage license did not entitle same-sex couples to spousal benefits under employee insurance plans. The case, Pidgeon v. Turner challenged then-Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s announcement that the city would begin offering health insurance and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees.

The case began in late 2013 when two Houston taxpayers sued Mayor Parker and the City of Houston after city officials determined that an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling, U.S. v. Windsor, striking down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), required that benefits be equally available to the legal different-sex or same-sex spouses of city employees.

A Texas state district judge initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs but the Texas 14th Court of Appeals overturned that decision in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling.

The plaintiffs then petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for review, which initially declined to hear the case. However, after a concerted campaign lead by Texas Republicans, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, the state’s High Court reversed itself and agreed to hear the case. That hearing took place on March 1, 2017. The plaintiffs and several “family values” Christian groups in Texas held that Obergefell didn’t settle the question of whether married same-sex couples must receive same spousal benefits as different-sex couples.

In its decision released last June 30, the court ruled against Houston in its ruling, writing, “But Obergefell is not the end either. Already, the Supreme Court has taken one opportunity to address Obergefell’s impact on an issue it did not address in Obergefell, and there will undoubtedly be others.” 

LGBTQI legal rights advocacy group, Lambda Legal, in response to the Texas Supreme Court decision in June said:

“This absurd contortion of the Obergefell ruling defies all logic and reason, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s explicit ruling on Monday that marriage is marriage and equal is equal. We will take steps to protect these families,” said Kenneth D. Upton, Jr., Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas. “The Court was very clear in the majority opinion about the scope of what marriage entails.”

“This decision is political and is an example of why elected judges are bad for LGBT people and bad for judicial independence,” added Eric Lesh, Fair Courts Project Director at Lambda Legal. 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s action returns the decision to the lower courts in Texas for further appellate action and although SCOTUS’s action set no nationwide legal precedent, it still may give a boost to conservative efforts to limit the effects of its decision in the case Obergefell v. Hodges that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to gay couples under the Constitution. The case will now proceed in a Texas state court.

LGBTQI advocacy groups raised an alarm Monday as they see the Supreme Court’s actions as giving leeway to conservative groups and conservative justices to chip away at LGBTQI Marriage Equality. GLAAD’s Executive Director, Sarah Kate Ellis, noted in an emailed statement that the denial of certiorari in the Houston Case is troubling given that this ruling occurred one day prior to SCOTUS hearing oral arguments on another yet another case with serious implications for the LGBTQI community.

“With all eyes on tomorrow’s oral arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop religious exemptions case, the Supreme Court has just let an alarming ruling by the Texas Supreme Court stand which plainly undercuts the rights of married same-sex couples,” Ellis said. “Today’s abnegation by the nation’s highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step.”

That case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, arrays Christian conservative groups against the LGBTQI community. The case was brought by another anti-LGBTQI family values legal group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing a Colorado bakery owner, and cake artist Jack Phillips.

Phillips claimed he couldn’t design a custom wedding cake for two men who requested it sayting in court documents that “using his artistic talents to celebrate a same-sex marriage would violate his Christian faith and his artistic freedom.”

The High Court will have to decide between three constitutional rights: “sexual equality, freedom of religion and freedom of expression” in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. Proponents of LGBTQI equality say that a decision in favor of Phillips would have a chilling effect on equality for LGBTQI people. The stakes are high, and could open the door for conservative businesses to spurn gay couples. 

The Trump administration, around twenty American states, dozens of members of Congress and countless Christian and conservative pressure groups have backed Phillips.

Brody Levesque is the Chief Political Correspondent for The New Civil Rights Movement.
You may contact Brody at Brody.Levesque@thenewcivilrightsmovement.com

To comment on this article and other NCRM content, visit our Facebook page.

Image by Joe Ravi via Wikimedia and a CC-BY-SA 3.0 license

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BREAKING NEWS

Federal Appeals Court Rules House Can Have Trump’s Tax Returns – Committee Expects Them ‘Immediately’

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A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled Tuesday that the powerful House Ways and Means Committee can be given Donald Trump‘s tax returns.

The decision is “a blow” to the former president,” as CNN reports. It comes after a Trump-appointed lower court judge had ruled against Trump, allowing the House to gain access to the documents Trump has protected for years.

The former president appealed.

READ MORE: Tax Researcher Reveals Ivana Trump Being Buried at Bedminister Gets Her Ex-Husband a Ton of Tax Breaks

The federal appeals court Tuesday morning upheld the lower court’s ruling, granting the House access. Trump can still appeal.

The House Ways and Means Committee was quick to respond, tweeting: “We expect to receive the requested tax returns and audit files immediately.”

This is a breaking news and developing story.

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RIGHT WING EXTREMISM

‘God Anointed Him’: Christian Right Expert Explains Conservative Outrage After FBI Raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

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Veteran journalist Sarah Posner, who has spent years writing about religion and the Christian right, has an explanation for the outraged response from some Trump supporters over the FBI executing a legal search warrant on Mar-a-Lago.

Hours after the news broke, Florida Republican state representative Anthony Sabatini called for “an emergency legislative session” to “Sever all ties with DOJ immediately” over the FBI executing a legal search warrant of Trump’s home. “Any FBI agent conducting law enforcement functions outside the purview of our State should be arrested upon sight,” he wrote, apparently unaware of the U.S. Constitution.

Tuesday night Trump supporters formed a small convoy driving outside Mar-a-Lago, some with Trump banners, Trump flags, or the American flag, – even one vehicle painted with the American flag – to show their support for the former president who might be facing legal consequences, as video from NBC 6 reporter Cristian Benavides shows.

READ MORE: ‘This Is a National Security Issue’: Former FBI Agents Note Key Details About ‘Raid’ on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

“The GOP position is that Trump is above the law,” writes The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “That’s what the GOP position on Trump was throughout his presidency, and that’s what it is now. Say it that way. Don’t let Republicans get away with using fake outrage to obscure this fundamental reality.”

Posner has written two books on the Christian Right including “UNHOLY: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, And the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind.”

In response to Sargent’s remarks she advises: “Remember too that much of Trump’s base believes that God anointed him, that it’s God’s will that he be back in the White House. And that they need to engage in ‘spiritual warfare’ with ‘demonic’ enemies of Trump — keep this in mind as right-wing influencers call for civil war.”

READ MORE: IRS Under Trump Allowed a Decades-Old Influential Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group to Change Its Tax Status and Become a Church

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Monday night tweeted, “The FBI is raiding President Trump’s home in Maralago! This is the rogue behavior of communist countries, NOT the United States of America!!! These are the type of things that happen in countries during civil war. The political persecution MUST STOP!!!”

Tuesday morning CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan posted a graph and noted the “big spike in tweets referencing ‘civil war’ right after the news of the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago broke last night.”

Dr. Caroline Orr Bueno posted an image of a large number of tweets that mention civil war and other related calls, including: “I already bought my ammo,” “Civil war! Pick up arms, people!” “Civil War 2.0 just kicked off,” “Let’s do the war,” and “One step closer to a kinetic civil war.”

 

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News

‘This Is a National Security Issue’: Former FBI Agents Note Key Details About ‘Raid’ on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

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Two former FBI agents are weighing in on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s execution of a search warrant Monday at the Florida residence of Donald Trump, the former President, which he called a “raid.”

“This is a nat sec/CI issue,” tweeted Asha Rangappa Tuesday morning, meaning national security and counterintelligence. Rangappa is an attorney, former FBI special agent, senior lecturer at Yale, and CNN commentator.

She was pointing to a tweet by another former FBI special agent, James Harris.

READ MORE: ‘Coverup of Treason’: Trump-Appointed IG, Under Investigation, Knew of Missing Secret Service and DHS Texts Far Earlier

Harris has an extensive bio, highlights of which include his role at FBI HQ Cyber Division as a Program Manager and then Unit Chief (Acting), FBI Senior Liaison Officer to DHS Cybersecurity and Communications, and FBI Assistant Section Chief of the Counterterrorism Internet Operations Section. Earlier in his FBI career he says he “built up the largest Federal Cybercrime Task Force in the US.”

Harris points to this section of a CNN article published Tuesday morning, written by seven CNN reporters:

“In early June, a handful of investigators made a rare visit to the property seeking more information about potentially classified material from Trump’s time in the White House that had been taken to Florida. The four investigators, including Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department, sat down with two of Trump’s attorneys, Bobb and Evan Corcoran, according to a source present for the meeting.”

READ MORE: Trump’s Legal Team Now in ‘Direct Communication’ With DOJ Officials About J6 Criminal Investigation: Report

Harris on Twitter highlights this sentence: “The four investigators, including Jay Bratt, the chief of the counterintelligence and export control section at the Justice Department…”

He tweets: “All you ‘outraged’ GOPers better cool your jets. You might be walking your rhetoric back really fast when you figure out what this seems to be. The devil is in the details.”

In January the National Archives was forced to transport from Mar-a-Lago 15 cartons of documents and other items that, according to the Presidential Records Act and the National Archives, should have been turned over to the Archives.

The FBI’s execution of the search warrant and reports that they left with a large quantity of documents suggests Trump might not have turned over everything taken from the White House.

Rangappa earlier Tuesday tweeted: “Ask yourself: What kind of info makes its way to the WH, and specifically to the president? —> HIGH LEVEL SECRETS. PDB stuff. Defense info. These aren’t low-level diplomatic cables or overclassified State Dept. correspondence. Just saying.”

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