Conservatives regroup after gay marriage defeat – By ADAM B. LERNER 7/12/15 7:53 AM EDT

Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June.       AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDS        (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court’s recent same-sex marriage ruling left many conservative Christians steamed, with some calling for new constitutional amendments and others urging resistance against America’s new legal reality.

But many leaders on the religious right accepted defeat quietly, embraced their new underdog status, and began coalescing around an invigorated crusade for “religious liberty,” with a strategy modeled on the very social movement that just beat them in court: gay-marriage advocates.

“Same-sex marriage has been the looming cultural issue of the moment,” said Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an offshoot of the right-leaning Southern Baptist Convention. “Religious liberty issues are the next horizon.”

The religious right rose to prominence in American politics in the 1980s, under the banner of Jerry Falwell’s now-defunct “Moral Majority.” But now, Bethancourt said, conservative Christians have become a “moral minority” living in a “post-Bible belt” America that discriminates against them.

Justice Samuel Alito employed similar rhetoric in his same-sex marriage dissent, warning that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s sweeping decision will be “used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.” Justice Clarence Thomas agreed, writing in his own dissent that the ruling could have “potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.”

“It seems like the oppressor is now taking on the mentality of the oppressed,” said Brandan Robertson, a self-described evangelical who supports same-sex marriage.

A number of Republican presidential candidates have echoed those arguments following the high court’s decision.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told Fox News that “already Christian businesses are facing discrimination if they don’t want to participate in wedding ceremonies that violate their sincerely held beliefs.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee similarly warned in a USA Today op-ed of businesses “economically terrorized” for their beliefs and the ruling’s coming “collision with the First Amendment guarantee of religious liberty.”

Similar worries about the plight of religious dissenters surfaced sporadically before the court’s decision — mostly in states with gay marriage and LGBT anti-discrimination laws or occasionally on a national scale, in reference to debates over abortion and contraception. But now, longtime evangelical leader Gary Bauer said, there’s widespread consensus among conservatives that “the next battlefield is protecting religious liberty,” with a particular emphasis on Americans whose religious beliefs prevent them from partaking in same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In the wake of the court’s decision, the religious right has already begun pushing new religious freedom laws and executive orders in state governments specifically targeted at preventing state agencies from penalizing businesses and individuals who refuse to participate in gay weddings.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback became the first Republican politician to take action, issuing an executive order Tuesday that forbids the state government from penalizing any religious leader or organization that refuses to participate in a same-sex marriage. In a statement accompanying the order, he cited a need to “protect against any infringement” of the “right to worship according to ‘dictates of conscience’.”

Unlike Indiana or Arkansas’ controversial religious freedom bills, which drew fire nationally for broad language that potentially extended to lawsuits between private individuals and businesses, Brownback’s order specifically dealt with government penalties for those who refuse to recognize gay-wedding ceremonies. The order made direct reference to Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision, as an “imposition” that “poses potential infringements on the civil right of religious liberty.”

And in Congress, more than 100 members have followed suit by cosponsoring the First Amendment Defense Act, which would prevent the federal government from revoking the tax-exempt status of religious organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriages. The bill speaks to fears fueled by President Obama’s own solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, who said during Obergefell’s oral arguments that non-cooperative religious organizations’ tax-exempt status is “certainly going to be an issue” for the court in the future.

A number of religious conservatives told POLITICO that the key to winning these upcoming legislative and legal battles will be employing tactics refined by the same-sex marriage movement that recently defeated them.

“[LGBT activists] did a good job of making the stories of peoples’ lives front and center and saying, ‘Look at how these people are affected,’” said Travis Weber of the Family Research Council. Groups like Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign used social media to promote popular gay and lesbian celebrities’ viewpoints and encouraged Americans to look to their LGBT neighbors asking for acceptance.

Conservatives should follow suit, Weber said, by highlighting the stories of religious individuals he said had been “demonized,” pointing to businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, an Oregon bakery that was fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding wake for a lesbian couple, or the Odgaard family, who shut down their Iowa bistro after a legal battle over their refusal to host a same-sex wedding. These cases, he believes, can serve as the same sort of compelling hook that Justice Kennedy used by putting James Obergefell’s heartfelt story of losing his husband at the beginning of his decision.

Another cue conservative Christians are taking from their Obergefell defeat: Don’t focus too heavily on gay and lesbian peoples’ sex lives. Instead, focus on religious liberty issues that have nothing to do with the bedroom.

“When sexual liberty and religious liberty are at odds with each other, in our culture, oftentimes sexual liberty prevails,” Bethancourt said, noting that the same-sex marriage movement was ultimately successful in highlighting families seeking parental rights and access to loved ones in the hospital.

Bethancourt’s group wrote an amicus brief for the Supreme Court on behalf of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie and Fitch on the presumption that she would not take off her head scarf during work. The case, he noted, was a clear-cut issue of religious liberty without an alienating sexual component, and it also allowed his movement to partner with other religious groups so that religious liberty arguments were no longer tethered to a particular denomination.

“People of faith have to stand together, they have to look out for each other,” Bethancourt said.

And there’s another lesson for religious conservatives: Build a diverse coalition. Bethancourt noted that progressive groups, from the NAACP to the ACLU, successfully expanded the base of support for marriage equality outside of traditional LGBT advocates.

But no matter how the Christian right evangelizes and markets itself, many same-sex marriage advocates see it as nothing more than bigotry in sheep’s clothing.

The religious right has employed the “language of apocalyptic impending doom” because “religious leaders realize they’re losing their base,” said Robertson, who characterized the right’s narrative as: “We’ve lost our position of influence in our country, we’re now a minority, and [thus] persecution is coming.”

“LGBT activists [were] saying, ‘Treat us the same as everyone else’ for a long period of time, and conservative Christians are [now] saying, ‘What we want is a carve out so we are exempt from parts of civil law,’” said Clyde Wilcox, a professor at Georgetown University who wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers: The Christian Right in American Politics.”

Whether the Christian right succeeds in securing new protections depends largely on how much the American public buys into their stories of persecution, said Michael Moreland, a former White House aide to George W. Bush.

“Each side is trying to lay claim to the language of discrimination,” which he said is “a very powerful tool” in American politics because it’s “deeply shaped by the civil rights movement.”

“Everyone’s kind of waiting now to see how this plays out. It could play out as race discrimination did, where understandably you had a national consensus come together very quickly about the intolerability of racial segregation,” he said. “Or it could end up being like abortion, where you have a constitutional right but a lot of exemptions,” earned through legal and political fights by a still formidable pro-life movement.

“A very narrowly crafted religious protections argument can be very successful,” Wilcox said, but overreach like in Indiana will push the public away. “Conservatives need to watch out.”


Politics and the Pulpit in America – By James Morone July/August 2015 Issue

Americans have been arguing about the role of religion in government since the earliest days of the republic. In 1789, soon after taking office, President George Washington declared a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.” God had bestowed a republican government on the United States, said Washington, and the nation ought to express its gratitude. Just 12 years later, President Thomas Jefferson abruptly canceled the ritual. The First Amendment, explained Jefferson, erected a “wall of separation between church and state.”Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at Jul 5, 2015 4.38

Jefferson’s wall could have used a better contractor. Today, there is hardly an aspect of American political life untouched by religion. God seems to be everywhere. The nation’s official motto is “In God We Trust.” The phrase is printed on the nation’s money, affixed behind the Speaker’s dais in the House of Representatives, and engraved over the entrance to the Senate. The Pledge of Allegiance declares a nation “under God,” and—sorry, Jefferson—the National Day of Prayer is back (the first Thursday in May); there is even a National Prayer Breakfast (the first Thursday in February). When they address the nation, U.S. presidents almost always conclude with a request that “God bless America.”

All this religiosity isn’t exactly ecumenical: a majority of Americans consider the United States a “Christian nation.” In his fine new book, Kevin Kruse declares that, whatever the public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic. For the most part, they agreed with Jefferson and believed in separating church and state.

What, then, explains the religiosity of American politics? Kruse traces its origins back to the 1930s. Conservative business leaders had trouble gaining traction against the New Deal and eventually discovered that moral claims generated more popular enthusiasm than calling for free markets. The business leaders funded a national movement led by religious figures such as James Fifield, Jr., a Congregational minister who preached that the New Deal, with its emphasis on collective responsibility, had introduced a “pagan statism.” Together, these men of the world and men of the cloth engineered a spiritual revival designed to shake Americans free from creeping collectivism.

Whatever the American public may think today, the founders had no intention of establishing a religious (much less a Christian) republic.

This pro-business, anticommunist, politicized Christianity seemed to find its political champion when Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952. But Eisenhower recast the movement (Kruse implies he hijacked it) as a more ecumenical, all-American consensus that would unite the nation in the Cold War struggle against the godless Soviet Union. Eisenhower set the agenda, and Congress—Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals—eagerly followed. Many of the most familiar manifestations of religion in government—the legislatively mandated allusions to God in the country’s official motto, on its money, and in its Pledge of Allegiance—emerged during the Eisenhower era.

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What’s Left For The Supreme Court: Same-Sex-Marriage, Obamacare And More – Ron Elving JUNE 15, 201512:18 AM ET

A Tea Party supporter rings a bell in protest to the health care law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, as Obamacare supporters shout slogans and raise signs behind her.

A Tea Party supporter rings a bell in protest to the health care law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, as Obamacare supporters shout slogans and raise signs behind her. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Major decisions are expected as soon as Monday, as the U.S. Supreme Court works its way through several cases still pending before it closes out its calendar for the 2014-2015 term.

Among the biggest issues hanging fire: the status of same-sex marriages, subsidies for health insurance under Obamacare and the drugs that states may use to administer the death penalty by lethal injection. But the court is also expected to weigh in on the drawing of lines for congressional elections, the right to put the Confederate flag on license plates and the right of a municipality to regulate outdoor signage.

“Decision days” are scheduled for each Monday this month, along with Thursday, the 18th — and there could be yet another day announced as well. The court has not gone beyond June in more than 20 years.

It is typical for the court to issue its most important and controversial rulings in the final days of its annual session. Many expect the same-sex marriage and Obamacare decisions to come later in the month. But many court observers are expecting the lethal-injection decision sooner, along with more than a dozen cases that carry considerable significance of their own.

The court meets at 10 a.m. Monday and on the other decision days of the month. NPR will be covering the proceedings and report on the decisions as soon as they become available, on our regular radio programs, on, NPR One and other platforms.

Lethal Injection (Glossip v. Gross)
As traditional methods such as hanging, firing squad and electrocution have fallen from favor, states with the death penalty have been injecting a “protocol” or series of drugs to execute death-row prisoners. But pharmaceutical companies now refuse to provide sodium thiopental, the drug used at the beginning of the series to make the prisoner lose consciousness.

States have looked for substitutes, including midazolam, which is a sedative and not an anesthetic. Inmates, who have brought this case, say they may remain conscious after receiving this drug and when they receive the subsequent drugs. Some members of the court were clearly sympathetic to this viewpoint in the oral argument earlier this year. But some of the court’s conservatives seemed to regard it as a “back door” means to undermine the death penalty itself.

If the court sides with the inmates, states will have to scramble to find alternative means of execution, which may include a return to the more traditional methods.

Obamacare (King v. Burwell)
Plaintiffs have argued that only those states that have set up their own exchanges for the purchase of health care insurance are entitled to give subsidies to lower income people. States that let the federal government set up their exchanges for them, they contend, may not accept the federal tax credits that subsidize those eligible in state-run exchanges. The administration argues that the intent of the legislators was clear whatever the exact wording of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and that all exchanges are eligible for the subsidies.

If the court rules for the plaintiffs, subsidies could go away for more than six million current recipients, although the timetable for them losing their insurance is somewhat uncertain. Congress would be under pressure to act.

Taking this many people out of the system would also affect the private health-insurance market and the amount people pay in insurance premiums. The degree of impact would depend on how sweeping the justices’ ruling was. But it could affect individuals, small business, large business, the insurance industry, doctors and hospitals.

Same-Sex Marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges and related cases)
A series of recent rulings by the high court has led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in three dozen states that are home to more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. This has happened despite many states’ efforts to enact bans on such marriages, either by legislation or referenda.

These laws and state constitutional amendments have been consistently struck down by federal courts at the district and appellate levels — except for the Federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. This one court, sitting in Cincinnati, Ohio, upheld the ban enacted in that state and several others and said states did not have to recognize marriages performed legally in other states. This “circuit split” between appeals judges brought the case before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.

The court now has the opportunity to clarify the legal situation by legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states or to adopt any of several more complicated resolutions — leaving some states with legal same-sex marriage but others — perhaps most — without. The court is also deciding a related case regarding the right of a state to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage that took place legally in another state.

Other cases to watch…

Arizona state legislature v. Arizona independent redistricting commission
Are state laws that put redistricting in the hands of independent commissions unconstitutional? Arizona voters created a commission by constitutional amendment, and some state legislators say that strips them of their redistricting power in violation of the federal constitution.

Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of the Confederacy
May states constitutionally ban the Sons of the Confederacy from displaying the confederate battle flag on vanity license plates?

Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Ariz.
What should be the constitutional rules for municipalities seeking to limit sign clutter? Here, a church had signs that the town wanted to regulate or remove.

Michigan v. EPA
Environmental case tests at what point the federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take into account the costs that factory owners face in complying with EPA regulation. Should it be before or after deciding to regulate hazardous pollutants?

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project
The most significant race-related case of the term involves so called “disparate impact” in housing. Must plaintiffs have proof of someone’s intent to discriminate?

Jeb Bush’s Favorite Author Rejects Democracy, Says The Hyper-Rich Should Seize Power – by Ian Millhiser Posted on May 26, 2015 at 8:00 am

Pre-Revolutionary kings would find a lot to like in Charles Murray’s new book against democracy CREDIT: PUBLIC DOMAIN VIA WIKIPEDIA

Pre-Revolutionary kings would find a lot to like in Charles Murray’s new book against democracy

At the height of 2011’s debt ceiling crisis, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered a candid explanation of why his party was willing to threaten permanent harm to the U.S. economy unless Congress agreed to change our founding document. “The Constitution must be amended to keep the government in check,” McConnell alleged. “We’ve tried persuasion. We’ve tried negotiations. We’ve tried elections. Nothing has worked.”

The amendment McConnell and his fellow Republicans sought was misleadingly named the “Balanced Budget Amendment” — a name that was misleading not because it was inaccurate, but because it was incomplete. The amendment wouldn’t have simply forced a balanced budget at the federal level, it would have forced spending cuts that were so severe that they would have cost 15 million people their jobs and caused “the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent,” according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. It was, in essence, an effort to permanently impose Tea Party economics on the nation, and to use a manufactured crisis to do so.

Few politicians are willing to admit what McConnell admitted when he confessed that elections have not “worked” to bring about the policy Republicans tried to impose on the nation in 2011. Elected officials, after all, only hold their jobs at the sufferance of the voters, and a politician who openly admits that they only believe in democracy insofar as it achieves their desired ends gives the middle finger to those voters and to the very process that allows those voters to have a say in how they are governed.

Charles Murray, an author who GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush recently named first when he was asked which books have had a big impact upon him, is not an elected official, so he is free to rail against democracy to his heart’s content. And that is exactly what he does in his new book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.

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Gay Marriage Meets Sympathy, Skepticism at Supreme Court – By TIERNEY SNEED April 28, 2015 | 4:58 p.m. EDT

Attorneys for both sides get tough questions in a case that could make same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

Karen Young, from Washington, DC, argues with an opponent of same-sex marriage near the Supreme Court, on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC.

After decades of activism and votes in statehouses and polling places around the country, a decision about whether gay marriage will become legal in the United States appeared on Tuesday to fall to one man.

Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed at times sympathetic to both the desire of gays and lesbians to marry and to opponents who suggested such a ruling would amount to federal government overreach during arguments before the Supreme Court. The case, which analysts have long speculated would lead to the court’s sanctioning of gay marriage nationwide, was closely divided between the court’s liberal justices – who said the definition of marriage should be extended to same-sex couples – and its conservative wing, which questioned whether such a ruling would fundamentally change the institution.

Kennedy, considered the swing vote on the issue, didn’t seem certain of a legal path that would grant gay couples the constitutional right to wed, grilling both those challenging and defending state prohibitions on gay marriage while giving little indication about which argument he will ultimately side with.

“This definition has been with us for millennia,” Kennedy said. “And it’s very difficult for the court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’”

[READ: The Next LGBT Rights Battle]

Attorneys before the court argued two questions in Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark case that could finally cement the legal landscape surrounding same-sex marriage after the court previously shied away from doing so: whether state bans against gay marriage are unconstitutional and if states banning gay marriage should be required to recognize gay marriages granted by other states.

Attorneys on both sides of the second question – Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, representing gay married couples seeking out-of-state recognition, and Tennessee Associate Solicitor General Joseph Whalen, arguing that Tennessee has the right not to recognize such marriages – struggled to answer the justices’ questions in their portion of the arguments, making it difficult to see an outcome in which the court would allow same-sex marriage to be legal and recognized in some states but not all. Kennedy was notably silent for most of this portion of the arguments.

That sharpened the focus even more on the ultimate, underlying question that had been brought to the Supreme Court: Is marriage a constitutional right that should apply to gays and lesbians the way it applies to heterosexual couples?

Arguing yes was Mary Bonauto, who helped win a monumental gay marriage case in Massachusetts over a decade ago. She said, despite Kennedy’s concerns, the place of same-sex couples in society had been debated for decades.

“It has been exhaustively aired, and the bottom line is that gay and lesbian families live in communities as neighbors throughout this whole country,” she said.

Defending the right of states to ban same-sex marriage was John Bursch, Michigan’s former solicitor general, who said the case was not about not how states define marriage but about who gets to define it, and that such a change should be left to the states’ political processes.

A major point of contention in his arguments was what the state’s interest would be in excluding gay people from marriage, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the other liberals on the court prodding Bursch on his suggestion that allowing gay couples to marry would detract from heterosexual marriages.

Bursch argued that allowing gay couples to wed would shift the state’s interest in marriage away from child-rearing, suggesting that gay marriage is primarily about an emotional attachment and prompting Kennedy to jump in.

“That assumes that same­-sex couples could not have the more noble purpose” of raising children, the justice said.

The court’s conservative wing was as tough on Bonauto’s arguments as liberals were on Bursch’s.

“Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that, a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license. Would there be any ground for denying them a license?” Justice Samuel Alito aid.

The conservatives also followed up on Kennedy’s argument that same-sex marriage is a relatively recent development. But Ginsburg helped Bonauto out by suggesting that the ideas surrounding heterosexual marriage had shifted, with men no longer being seen as holding the “dominant” role and women as the “subordinate.”

Bonauto pushed hardest against the idea that states should take a “wait and see” approach and observe the policy ramifications of same-sex marriage being granted in some states before legalizing it in others; she argued that states used similar logic to defend bans on interracial marriage, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1967.

[DATA MINE: Americans’ Changing Position on Gay Marriage in 2 Charts]

While some gay rights activists believed Chief Justice John Roberts’ vote may have been up for grabs, Roberts dealt a potential blow to those hopes by suggesting he saw a difference between this case and a previous Supreme Court case that struck down state anti-sodomy laws. That case, he said, was about government intrusion, while the current one before the court was about what a state must approve.

Tuesday’s landmark case came after the court in recent years passed on several obvious opportunities to explicitly weigh in on the issue, even forcing recognition of gay marriage in some states through its inaction. The reluctance led many observers to think the court was content to let gay marriage advance.

But along with the justices’ ruling, what remains to be seen are the scope and legal rationale of the majority opinion. A broad decision for either side could have an impact on other gay rights battles, though any discussion Tuesday about the breadth of a potential ruling was brief.

Kennedy questioned U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, arguing in support of the plaintiffs, why the U.S. government’s brief in the case focused on an equal protection argument – meaning that state marriage bans discriminate against gays and lesbians on the basis of sexual orientation. In general, the justices seemed more amenable to an argument resting on the 14th Amendment’s due process clause, which would imply that marriage is a fundamental right afforded to everyone, gay or straight.

In the pause before Verrilli’s allotted time, a protester began shouting from the back of the courtroom that gay marriage was an “abomination” and supporters would “burn in hell.” With the outburst coming after a half an hour of intense legal wrangling, Justice Antonin Scalia called the disruption “refreshing, actually.”

A decision in the case is expected in late June.

A rising insurrection against Obama – By Colbert I. King April 3

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

It’s a scary thought, but here it is: If some red states were to openly defy the authority of President Obama in the exercise of his constitutional duties, would today’s Republican Congress side with him? Or would they honor the insurrection?

I wish it could be said with confidence that the legislative branch would oppose a rebellion against the executive branch of government. But I’m not so sure.

Last month, the Republican-led Arizona House of Representatives passed, on a 36-to-24 party-line vote, a bill sponsored by tea party Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) that “prohibits this state or any of its political subdivisions from using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate with an executive order issued by the President of the U.S. that has not been affirmed by a vote of Congress and signed into law as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.”

If adopted by the Arizona Senate and signed into law, executive orders issued by the president would have no force or effect in that state. What’s more, the Arizona House has passed a number of other bills aimed at nullifying policies, rules and regulations of the Obama administration that have not been approved by Congress.

The word “insurrection” does come to mind. Yet the resistance out West to federal authority has been received in virtual silence on Capitol Hill. It’s almost as if the GOP Congress wanted an uprising against the president.

This country has drifted far beyond the rough-and-tumble give-and-take that historically occurs between the parties. It’s one thing to oppose the president’s policies. It’s quite another to refuse to acknowledge presidential authority.

That’s what we are witnessing in the Arizona House. That’s what we also saw with the 47 Republican senators who wrote to the Iranian government, warning that Obama is seeking a nuclear agreement that won’t last beyond his administration.

Sabotaging Obama shows up in other ways.

This week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told countries involved in negotiating a U.N.-brokered international climate change agreement that they should “proceed with caution” because of intransigent opposition to Obama’s efforts to significantly scale back U.S. carbon ­emissions.

McConnell also seeks to undermine presidential authority here at home. In a March 3 op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell told states to ignore the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandate for clean power regulations. “Think twice before submitting a state plan,” McConnell implored the states. “Hold back.”

The Arizona insurrection, the GOP senators’ attempt to undermine negotiations over a nuclear agreement, the Senate leader’s effort to rupture international climate change negotiations and his call for open defiance of federal regulations are all aimed at marginalizing Obama by rendering him powerless.

Sometimes, in their zeal, the Republicans get out of control.

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Is A Confederate Flag License Plate Free Speech? – Nina Totenberg MARCH 23, 2015 4:08 AM ET

The design of a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate.

The design of a proposed Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate.

AP/Texas Department of Motor Vehicles

The U.S. Supreme Court is tackling a question of great interest to America’s auto-loving public: Whose speech is that on your specialty license plate? Specifically, when the government issues specialty tags at the behest of private groups or individuals, can it veto messages deemed offensive to others?

The specialty plate at the center of Monday’s case was proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Texas division. The tag design featured a square Confederate battle flag, along with the organization’s name. Texas produces specialty plates for a fee, but the design must first be approved by the state Department of Motor Vehicles board.

The Confederate veterans plate generated considerable controversy.

“Why should we as Texas want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape, mass murder?” asked state Senator Royce West at a public hearing about the plates in 2011.

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Lynch to defend Obama on immigration – By John Bresnahan and Manu Raju 1/27/15 6:43 PM EST Updated 1/27/15 7:31 PM EST

Attorney General nominee will walk fine line on ‘amnesty’

President Barack Obama listens at right as US Attorney Loretta Lynch speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, where the president announced he would nominate Lynch to replace Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch plans to tell senators that she doesn’t believe President Barack Obama has blanket power to grant “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, but she’ll argue that the president’s sweeping moves on the issue have stayed within the bounds of the Constitution.

As her confirmation hearings begin Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lynch will aim for a balancing act with Republicans who hope to derail her nomination by seizing on her views about immigration and Obama’s use of executive power, according to a person involved in her preparations.

Lynch, 55, will not be drawn into “political back-and-forth on issues” such as immigration and will “calmly and dispassionately emphasize her record as an independent, career prosecutor,” the person said. While she will support Obama’s legal rationale for his actions on immigration, she will express caution about going too far, the source said — and she’ll contend that the president’s latest unilateral steps don’t amount to “amnesty.”

She also will tell the panel that the Constitution will be her “lodestar” in determining the legality of the president’s actions, the source said.

Lynch, a federal prosecutor who would be the first African-American woman to serve as attorney general, has been methodically preparing for her hearings since early December in closed-door sessions with senior administration officials.

White House and Justice Department officials predict that committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and other Republicans will focus most heavily on Obama’s immigration decisions. In November, shortly after Republicans won control of the Senate, Obama issued executive orders granting work permits and a three-year reprieve from deportation for nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants. The move infuriated Republicans while delighting immigration reform supporters, setting off a political and legal battle that continues to play out on Capitol Hill and across the country.

As the current U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, Lynch will contend she had “no part” in the Obama administration’s formulation of the policy, although Lynch will note she has reviewed the memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that laid out its legal parameters.

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Republicans scratched “civil rights and human rights” from a Senate subcommittee name Updated by Jenée Desmond-Harris on January 25, 2015, 12:30 p.m. ET

  1. Under new Republican leadership, the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, has been renamed: it’s now called the Senate Subcommitee on the Constitution.
  2. The change wasn’t formally announced, but when Senate Judiciary Committee chair Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) listed the members of the subcommittee this week, the “civil rights” and “human rights” were missing, the Huffington Post reported Friday.
  3. A spokesman for John Coryn (R-Texas),the chairman of the renamed subcommittee, confirmed the change and explained, “We changed the name because the Constitution covers our most basic rights, including civil and human rights,” and, “We will focus on these rights, along with other issues that fall under the broader umbrella of the Constitution.”

A change that reflects priorities?

The switch, combined with Coryn’s legislative track record (he has, for example, opposed a bipartisan plan designed to revive the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision stripped its key provisions), is causing concern among those who take it as confirmation that the subcommittee won’t prioritize civil rights or human rights issues.

In a statement release Friday, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the change “discouraging.” She said, “Names matter. This, after all, is a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the implementation and enforcement of many of our most important civil rights laws.”

A spokesman for Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat who’s the subcommittee’s previous chairman and now, ranking member, told the Huffington Post that the committee’s name change “speaks to its priorities,” but that Durbin would fight to make sure civil rights and human rights weren’t ignored under its new, more conservative leadership.

The subcommittee’s jurisdiction, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s website (which has not yet been updated to reflect the new name or membership) is over the following areas:

  1. Constitutional amendments
  2. Enforcement and protection of  constitutional rights
  3. Statutory guarantees of civil rights and civil liberties
  4. Separation of powers
  5. Federal-State relations
  6. Interstate compacts
  7. Human rights laws and practices
  8. Enforcement and implementation of human rights laws

In a similar Republican-initiated name change that could be interpreted to reflect partisan values, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) eliminated “refugees and border security” from the name of the Senate subcommittee on immigration policy, replacing that phrase with “the national interest.”

Report: Fast food industry could survive $15 minimum wage – by Ned Resnikoff- January 23, 2015 12:39PM ET

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Congress could more than double the federal minimum wage without doing serious harm to the fast food industry, according to a report from economists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In a hypothetical scenario where the minimum wage gradually rose from $7.25 per hour to $15, the authors of the report found that fast food companies would be able to “fully absorb” the increase without limiting its profit margin.

The industry could absorb increased labor costs, the report contends, by reducing turnover and slightly increasing prices. Reducing turnover would theoretically increase the productivity of the employees, therefore reducing the increase in labor costs.

“In terms of policy implications, our results offer a straightforward conclusion,” the report says. “Achieving a $15 federal minimum wage within the U.S., phased in over four years, should be seen as a realistic prospect.”

The $15 figure was not selected at random: It is the wage floor that protesting fast food workers have been demanding for more than two years, as part of a nationwide campaign backed by the labor union SEIU. Thanks, in part, to labor movement pressure, Seattle and San Francisco have both approved $15 minimum wage increases in the past year. Various other cities and states have also raised their wage floors by lesser amounts.

Industry groups such as the International Franchise Association (IFA) have denounced the demands for a $15 wage floor as irresponsible.

“Mandating wages would lead to higher prices for consumers, lower foot traffic and sales for franchise owners, and ultimately, lost jobs and opportunities for employees to become managers or franchise owners,” said IFA President and CEO Steve Caldeira in August. “The franchise industry is a proven job creator and career builder, yet efforts to double the minimum wage to $15 would clearly jeopardize opportunities for existing and prospective employees.”

In some other parts of the world, the fast food industry pays its lowest-wage employees considerably more. Burger King and McDonald’s employees in Denmark, for example, tend to earn at least $20 per hour. In Australia, the standard minimum wage is AU $16.87, or $13.39 in U.S. currency.