Saturday, December 15, 2018

Last Call For The Heartbeat Of Ohio

Ohio's GOP-controlled state Senate has passed a House measure effectively outlawing abortion procedures after as little as six weeks, they have the votes in both chambers to override a John Kasich veto, incoming GOP Gov. Mike DeWine says he'll sign the bill anyway, and Republicans freely admit they're going to pass the measure specifically to go to the Supreme Court to end Roe v. Wade.

The anti-abortion movement has become more emboldened since the Trump administration was able to appoint two Supreme Court justices, paving the way for the new conservative federal bench to potentially overturn Roe v. Wade.

Indeed, in an 18-13 vote Wednesday, the Ohio Senate passed the so-called “heartbeat bill,” banning abortions after providers can detect a fetal heartbeat — which could be as early as six weeks, before many people even know they’re pregnant.

The House first passed the “heartbeat bill” in November, but a Senate committee amended the measure to clarify that officials would not be required to use a trans-vaginal ultrasound to detect the heartbeat. Providers could instead use an abdominal ultrasound, which detects the fetal heartbeat a few weeks later, usually around 11 weeks. Either way, the bill is a clear attempt by Ohio lawmakers to ban abortions before the fetus is viable. When talking about a fetus, the word “heartbeat” isn’t medically accurate, as it’s not a fully formed heart.

The measure now heads back to the House before heading to the desk of Gov. John Kasich (R). Kasich vetoed the measure before in 2016, but the lame-duck legislature is unfazed. Legislators have enough votes to override a veto, and they could always vote on the bill again next year after Gov.-elect Mike DeWine (R) takes office, as he said he supports the ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggested it would file a lawsuit should the bill become law. Federal courts have blocked similar measures in other states.

“[W]omen’s lives and our right to decide whether to have an abortion is not a political game; women and families suffer when abortion is pushed out of reach. If this bill becomes law, we will take this fight to court, and we will never stop fighting on behalf of women in Ohio and across the country,” said deputy director at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, Brigitte Amiri, in a statement on Wednesday.

“We literally crafted this legislation to be the arrow in the heart of Roe v. Wade. It is made to come before the United States Supreme Court,” said the bill’s author, Janet Porter, who also worked on Roy Moore’s Senate campaign in Alabama and defended him when he was credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teen girls.

While Ohio’s ban is the first anti-abortion bill in the nation that could be sent to a governor since Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court in October, it’s hardly the only measure teed up to challenge Roe. There are at least 13 cases in the court pipeline and a measure signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s governor is the furthest along; the Supreme Court still needs to decide whether to hear arguments.

The only question is which case SCOTUS takes up in order to end Roe, but understand that by 2020, safe abortion procedures could be effectively illegal in dozens of states.  What happens after that, who knows.

A Case Of Zinke Deficiency

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest casualty in the rapidly disintegrating Trump regime as his legal pressures mounted over misuse and abuse of travel and department resources and a guaranteed investigation next month as House Democrats explored his sweetheart Montana federal land deal scandal.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has notified the White House that he intends to step down amid federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Zinke’s decision, expected to be announced on Wednesday, comes as Democrats, who’ve vowed to grill the him over his conduct, are about to take control of the House of Representatives, raising the prospect of heightened oversight -- and a crush of legal bills from defending himself. Concern about all the scrutiny and legal costs on the horizon were factors in Zinke’s decision to quit, said the people, who asked not to be identified to discuss it.

The impending departure also emerges as President Donald Trump grapples with other changes to his Cabinet that underscore the challenges of filling vacancies in a tumultuous administration. On Friday, the president announced that budget director Mick Mulvaney would take over as chief of staff, replacing John Kelly, whose ouster on Dec. 8 touched off a roller-coaster search to fill the key White House post.

Trump’s been aware of Zinke’s plans for several days, and a search for a replacement is under way, the people said.

Like other disgraced cabinet officials who have resigned under clouds of personal scandal, Zinke overtly tried to enrich himself in the same way Donald Trump is doing, he just never had the same protection as Trump does.

Zinke had championed using federal lands to pursue U.S. “energy dominance,” and that agenda will be continued by his likely successor as acting Interior Secretary: David Bernhardt, the agency’s No. 2 official. As deputy he’s played a key, behind-the-scenes role in shaping the department’s policies. 
Other potential contenders for the post include Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman from Wyoming; Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes; Adam Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general who lost his bid to be governor ; Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter; former Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who lost his re-election bid in November; and outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The role is typically filled by Western politicians who have experience navigating the vast federal lands.

Trump will appoint somebody who will make it easier to drill on federal land and extract oil, gas, and minerals.  That person too will resign in scandal, because at this point only the most corrupt would take the job, and that basically goes for any and every cabinet position Trump needs to fill.

They're After Your Health Care Again

With Democrats winning the House back, Republicans are again turning to the Supreme Court to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, and that process started Friday with a long-awaited (but pretty garbage) ruling from a Texas federal judge on the case filed by red state attorneys general.

The decision Friday finding the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional comes just before the end of a six-week open enrollment period for the program in 2019 and underscores a divide between Republicans who have long sought to invalidate the law and Democrats who fought to keep it in place.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth agreed with a coalition of Republican states led by Texas that he had to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act, the signature health-care overhaul by President Barack Obama, after Congress last year zeroed out a key provision -- the tax penalty for not complying with the requirement to buy insurance. The decision is almost certain to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for health care, and on America’s faithful progress toward affordable health care for all Americans,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. A spokeswoman for Becerra said an appeal will be filed before Jan. 1.

Texas and an alliance of 19 states argued to the judge that they’ve been harmed by an increase in the number of people on state-supported insurance rolls. They claimed that when Congress repealed the tax penalty last year, it eliminated the U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale for finding the ACA constitutional in 2012.

The Texas judge agreed.

“The remainder of the ACA is non-severable from the individual mandate, meaning that the Act must be invalidated in whole,” O’Connor wrote.

Chief Justice Roberts already critically wounded Obamacare by ending the individual mandate, and the argument is that the entire law must be thrown out because part of it was ruled unconstitutional.   Blue states are arguing that the fact SCOTUS refused to do that when they had the chance is proof enough, but Republicans are betting Trump will get to replace either Justice Ginsburg or Breyer soon, and if that happens, the law is certainly gone (along with the entire civil rights, women's rights, and labor rights movements over the last 60 years.)

The battle won't end anytime soon.

The Best-Kept Secret In DC

Robert Mueller's team had a hearing involving a sealed court order before the DC Circuit Court involving a grand jury subpoena Friday morning, and nobody -- and I mean nobody -- has any clue as to what the subpoena involves.

The tight-lipped approach of Mueller and his team has led to rampant speculation and curiosity. In October, Politico reported that on the day a filing was due in the sealed grand jury case, a journalist overheard a man in the clerk’s office request a copy of the special counsel’s office’s latest sealed filing so that the man’s law firm could put together a response. Several hours later, a sealed response was filed in the grand jury case.

It was not confirmation that the sealed grand jury case was indeed related to Mueller’s investigation, but it was enough to make Friday’s arguments a must-attend event.

More than an hour before arguments were scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m., reporters started to gather in the hallway outside the courtroom, hoping to see a familiar face go inside — a member of Mueller’s team, perhaps, or a defense lawyer known to represent someone connected to the Russia investigation or the administration. None were spotted. By the time arguments began, at least a dozen reporters were huddled outside the courtroom, and more continued to show up as the morning went on.

Faces eagerly turned toward the elevators when they dinged to announce a new arrival, and then fell when it was another reporter, or someone no one recognized.

The first case was argued. Then the second. Still nothing. At the end of arguments in the second case, court employees instructed everyone in the courtroom to leave. Court staff and security officials then cleared the entire floor, an unusual occurrence in the courthouse. Reporters scattered, staking out other hallways, stairwells, and exits. At one point at least 20 journalists roamed the courthouse building and its grounds.
After roughly an hour and a half, reporters were allowed back onto the floor, although the courtroom was locked and it wasn’t clear if arguments had ended. A little after noon, the courtroom deputy confirmed that the judges were, in fact, done hearing arguments for the day. 
“I’m ready to go to sleep forever,” one reporter was heard saying as she boarded an elevator to leave.

Even after Friday’s arguments, little is known about the case. Publicly available court records show that the sealed grand jury case was first filed in August and then made two trips to the DC Circuit. The first time, an appeal was filed in September and then dismissed by the court in early October because the court didn’t have jurisdiction. It was appealed again a week later. That was the case a three-judge panel heard Friday.

There's a fair amount of speculation that the person under grand jury subpoena is Donald Trump himself, and this hearing was about whether or not a sitting president could be subpoenaed.

The speculation about who this unidentified individual is reached a fever pitch when Politico theorized that this person could be President Donald Trump. It was argued that maybe Trump had already been subpoenaed by the special counsel and was secretly litigating that behind the scenes. One legal expert clearly told Law&Crime why that was a “bogus” idea. However, the identity of this person has remained elusive and there were some strange things about this case.

The speed with which these appeals have been traveling through the courts and the special attention the case has been receiving has only added to the intrigue.

Former federal prosecutor Nelson W. Cunningham, the author of the aforementioned Politico piece, noted that “when the witness lost the first time in the circuit court (before the quick round-trip to the district court), they unusually petitioned for rehearing en banc—meaning they thought their case was so important that it merited the very unusual action of convening all 10 of the D.C. Circuit judges to review the order.”

Cunningham argued that this itself was telling, but added that something else was “even more telling,” namely: “President Trump’s sole appointee to that court, Gregory Katsas, recused himself.” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow forcefully denied that this related to the president at all.

Whatever happened, the hearing came and went, and the results are unknown.  Whoever the subject of the subpoena is, they aren't talking themselves to the press.  That makes me think it's actually not Trump, as Trump cannot, cannot, cannot keep his mouth shut.  He would have taken to Twitter long ago to scream about Mueller specifically doing this.

But whoever it is, they are important as hell.

Stay tuned.
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