The family of Marco McMillian, a 33 year-old openly gay candidate for mayor of Clarksdale, Mississippi released a statement yesterday saying that he was beaten and set on fire before his lifeless body was dumped near a river. Last Thursday, police arrested a 22-year old man who, like McMillian, is African-American and charged him with the mayoral candidate’s murder. Although the motive for the murder remains unknown, the circumstances of the murder suggest a possible anti-gay hate crime. According to the family, “[w]e feel this was not a random act of violence based on the condition of the body when it was found.”
A Washington Post profile of President Obama’s efforts to diversify the federal bench provides an interesting window into the depth of his commitment to this project. Of the 35 judicial nominees currently pending before the Senate, “17 of the 35 pending judicial nominees are women, 15 are ethnic minorities and five are openly gay.” Only six are white straight men.
To be sure, this particular slice of the President’s judicial nominees is unusually diverse, but Obama has still shown a great commitment to judicial diversity than any of his predecessors. “During Obama’s first term, 37 percent of his confirmed judges were nonwhites, compared with 19 percent for President George W. Bush and 27 percent for President Bill Clinton. The trend is similar on gender: 42 percent of Obama’s first-term judges were women, compared with 21 percent for Bush and 30 percent for Clinton.” As ThinkProgress previously reported, Obama has quadrupled the number of openly gay judges with lifetime appointments to the federal bench (although this has as much to do with the fact that there was only one openly gay Article III judge before Obama took office as it does with the President’s nominees).
It should be noted that, while the President’s devotion to judicial diversity is admirable, his record on judicial confirmations would be stronger if he were quicker to nominate judges — the majority of vacancies currently do not have a nominee. Likewise, because the biggest obstacle to swift judicial confirmations remains widespread filibusters by Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats will ultimately need to push through a more aggressive filibuster reform package than the fairly weak package enacted earlier this year or else many of the President’s nominees are likely to languish behind a curtain of obstructionism.
An examination of college enrollment data by Howard University Professor Ivory A. Toldson finds a sharp spike in college enrollment among black men — “a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011.” According to Toldson, “[t]he raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011.” As he explains, this data also gives the lie to a common claim that there are more African-American men in prison than in higher education:
As Toldson points out, however, not all of this gain in black male college enrollment is real, as colleges and universities do a better job of reporting enrollment data than they did ten years ago. Toldson also warns that a “lack of adequate guidance and academic rigor in high schools” leads to black men being underrepresented at competitive universities.
It’s also worth noting that Toldson attributes some of the gain to for-profit colleges, many of which are nothing more than scams.
(HT: Jamelle Bouie)
In an appearance on MSNBC, Blackburn pointed out that the latest iteration of the law protects “different groups” and thus dilutes funding for straight, non-Native American women with the proper documentation:
When you start to make this about other things it becomes an “against violence act” and not a targeted focus act… I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups. What you need is something that is focused specifically to help the shelters and to help out law enforcement, who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up.
Domestic violence is domestic violence, period. And there is no way to justify Blackburn’s suggestion that some victims of this violence are more deserving than others. The reauthorized VAWA allows programs targeting LGBT victims of domestic violence to compete on equal footing for grant money with other groups serving underserved populations, and it ensures that LGBT victims will not be turned away from shelters and other services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These victims of violence deserve the same protections as anyone else caught in domestic abuse.
Additionally, the reauthorized VAWA includes provisions to prevent serial rapists and similar abusers from preying on Native American women. If Blackburn considers Native American women a “different group,” then it’s one she should be most concerned about: Three out of every five Native American women has been assaulted by an intimate partner.
After a first term in which President Obama had issued less presidential mercy to shorten or revoke criminal sentences than any other president in modern history, Obama announced Friday that he would pardon 17 people for minor crimes with sentences of five years or less.
The pardons from president Obama revoke the convictions of the 17 individuals, meaning any remaining sentence is cut short and the criminal conviction is removed from their record. Twelve of the individuals had not been sentenced to any prison time at all. But the legal consequences that follow a person who has been convicted of a crime, known as collateral consequences, range from voting and employment limitations to restrictions on adoption, immigration, gun ownership and licensing. This is in addition to unlawful discrimination and cultural stigma that accompanies those with criminal convictions.
The president retains the constitutional power to grant pardons as well as commutations, which shorten an individual’s sentence. Presidents have historically used the power to correct inevitable injustices in the criminal system and grant a second chance to those who have turned their lives around. A White House spokesman told the New York Times that Obama granted pardons to those “who demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities.”
But a study by investigative outlet ProPublica has shown that Obama has used his clemency power more rarely than any president in modern history, granting just 1 in 50 pardon applications, compared to 1 in 3 by this point in President Reagan’s first term, and 1 in 8 under President Clinton. His record on commutations is equally stark. Last year, the only pardon Obama granted went to a Thanksgiving turkey. This spare use of presidential mercy stands in contrast to draconian federal laws, particularly on both drug and immigration offenses, and a U.S. incarceration rate that eclipses every other country in the world.
Many have pointed to flaws in the Office of the Pardon Attorney, tasked with making recommendations to the president, because it is housed in the Department of Justice and thus institutionally inclined to preserve its own prosecutions. Others also point to misconduct by the current U.S. Pardon Attorney, who was found by the DOJ’s inspector general to have mishandled a commutation application by an individual serving a triple life sentence for his nominal role in a drug deal. Even after the 17 pardons granted today Obama has granted far less mercy in raw terms than any of his precedessors, including just one commutation.
Among those granted pardons was a man convicted of distributing cocaine who says he’s turned his life around, a former drug offender who has become an active member of the community since his release from prison in 1991 and an immigrant in Hawaii whose path to citizenship was blocked by a conviction on one charge of conspiracy to defraud the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Margaret Colgate Love, a former pardon attorney who represented two of the individuals granted clemency Friday, said she hoped Obama’s announcement was a signal that he will start granting clemency more regularly during his second term.
The MinnPost notes that Dayton has said he will not sign any election reform bill that does not garner bipartisan support in the legislature. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) boasted Friday that the governor’s move “gives us a little bit of power, too — almost like a veto. If we don’t put any Republican votes up, he’s pledged to veto that stuff.” Daudt hits the nail on the head: a veto is precisely what Dayton is giving the Minnesota Republicans.
Minnesota Republicans have stood unanimously against the majority’s proposals to expand early voting and no-excuse absentee voting. They say their top election concern is the largely mythical issue of election integrity — though their opposition to expanding voting rights could also stem from the fact that “unlikely voters” tend to be less likely to support GOP candidates.
While in the majority in the last legislative session, Minnesota Republicans put a strict voter ID constitutional amendment before the voters — allegedly to address election integrity concerns. While early polls showed strong support, by Election Day voters solidly rejected the proposal.
In his time in the U.S. Senate and as Governor, Dayton has generally been a solid progressive. But rather than recognize that Minnesotans rejected the voter suppression tactics of the GOP — and embraced the pro-voting rights DFL — Dayton’s curious move is giving the minority the power to suppress the voting rights of Minnesotans.
The Supreme Court’s five conservatives appeared openly hostile to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last week, with Justice Scalia referring to the law that ended Jim Crow voter disenfranchisement as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” Outside of the Supreme Court’s conservative wing and a handful of state elected officials, however, there does not appear to be much of a constituency for striking down this landmark law. Indeed, in an email to MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes, former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) took a very different position that the conservative justices: “I do believe this is a legislative matter where the action of the congress should take priority and does not raise constitutional issues that justify judicial action superseding the legislative branch’s role.”
Reauthorization of the act received overwhelming bipartisan support in 2006, with the House voting 390-33 in favor and the Senate voting 98-0. In his now-infamous “racial entitlement” statement, Scalia suggested that this lopsided vote actually makes the law more suspect than if there had been significant opposition, because he thinks this means legislators were to scared to vote against it. In reality, however, there is no evidence that elected officials who oppose voting rights are afraid to take action against the law — six state attorneys general filed a brief in the Supreme Court arguing that the law should be struck down in order to make it easier for their states to enact voter suppression laws. The more likely explanation for the lopsided vote is that few people who don’t sit on the Supreme Court believe the law’s longstanding protections for minority voting rights are a bad idea.
What’s worse, after the school fired the woman, they then offered to hire her boyfriend — who, by most assumptions, must have been engaged in premartial sex, as well:
“I had to go into the office with all of my co-workers and say I’m leaving,” James told NBC’s “Today.” “I never came back so I don’t know what my co-workers thought, but for me, it was humiliating. I felt like I was in trouble.“[...]
In the college’s “community covenant,” employees and students agree to stay away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco. They are also required to abstain from “abusive anger, malice, jealousy, lust, sexually immoral behavior including premarital sex, adultery, pornography and homosexuality,” according to Allred’s statement.
“It does not say that you will be fired if you do not comply,” Allred told “Today.”
There is an inherent discrimination in trying to persecute a woman for having pre-martial sex. Since no man’s body will demonstrate his sexual history in the way a woman’s will, there’s no evidence that could lead a man to being fired for engaging in the same activity a woman does.
But it’s not just humiliating to publicly embarrass a woman for becoming pregnant from sex, it’s also likely illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. That law “prohibit[s] sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.”
- Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) reacts to Justice Scalia’s description of the Voting Rights Act as a “perpetuation of racial entitlement” — “What Justice Scalia said, to me, was, ‘The 15th Amendment of the Constitution ain’t got no concerns for me because I’m white and proud.’”
- Meanwhile, Chief Justice Roberts relied on an inaccurate understanding of census data in order to claim that Massachusetts has a worse record on minority voting than Mississippi.
- The Maryland Senate rejected an amendment seeking to water down a bill repealing the death penalty. A final vote on the bill could come as soon as tomorrow.
- School voucher groups spent over $20,000 to keep the Wisconsin Supreme Court in Republican hands.
- And, finally, Saturday Night Live goes after Scalia — “I don’t think you get to say what’s outdated when you’re a small council of old people in robes who decide our laws and can’t be fired.”