Supreme Court sets stage for historic ruling on gay marriage – by Steve Friess January 16, 2015 3:38PM ET

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The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it will hear appeals in four same-sex-marriage cases, virtually assuring that it will issue a landmark ruling by the end of June on one of the era’s most contentious and fastest-changing social issues.

In accepting the cases — from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — the stage is set for a final legal battle over whether denying gay couples the ability to legally wed is a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The justices are expected to hear oral arguments in April and to decide by the end of June whether every state and U.S. territory must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize such marriages conducted elsewhere.

A decision in favor of equal marriage rights would take its place in the canon of pivotal cases involving human rights, from Brown v. Board of Education in 1952, which forced desegregation, to Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages.

“What the Loving case did for interracial marriage, we’re hoping these cases will do for same-sex marriage,” said Dana Nessel, an attorney for suburban Detroit couple April DeBoer and Jane Rowse, whose case is now on the Supreme Court docket.

DeBoer v. Snyder, first filed in January 2012, originally sought to force Michigan to allow both women to be legal parents to their four adopted children. It was expanded later that year to demand the legal right to marry. The couple’s case — and similar ones around the nation — was bolstered in June 2013 when the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The 5-4 decision, written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, asserted that discriminating against same-sex couples who wish to wed is a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

That ruling, in United States v. Windsor, kicked off a winning streak for same-sex marriage advocates through the courts, with dozens of federal district judges and three three-judge panels at federal appellate courts concluding that states may not discriminate either. The number of states where gay couples can legally marry climbed from nine to 36 as of Friday. More than 70 percent of Americans now live in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Federal judges in all four states under the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — also struck down marriage bans in those states. However, in November a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit upheld the states’ right to bar same-sex marriage, creating a schism between interpretations of Windsor and making Supreme Court mediation inevitable


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Why Jim Harbaugh Came Home to Michigan – By Jonathan Chait December 30, 2014 3:04 p.m. 

Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Over the past couple of weeks, a wide array of national sportswriters weighed in on the prospect that Jim Harbaugh would accept a job as football coach at the University of Michigan. They universally dismissed the notion, often ridiculing it as preposterous. This conclusion followed naturally from their assumption that college football is merely a business, and a minor-league business at that. And so for a coach to spurn the highest level of that business for a miniature version would make as much sense as turning down major-league baseball to remain in AAA.

Harbaugh turned down the NFL to coach at his alma mater. He didn’t do it for the money: Harbaugh was the hottest coaching commodity in the league, and NFL franchises waved considerably larger sums than what he signed for at Michigan, but he accepted the Michigan job before a bidding war could even commence. He did it because there is a culture of college sports in the United States that, unfathomable though it may be to those outside it, has important meaning to those within it.

Jim Harbaugh was the star quarterback at Michigan when I was 12, 13, and 14 years old, which gave him a special and affixed role in the firmament of a teenage mind. The figure who held that role in Harbaugh’s own mind was Rick Leach. When Harbaugh was 12, Leach was Michigan’s star quarterback, and Harbaugh the ballboy, and his father an assistant coach. Here is a ten-second clip of Leach scoring a touchdown in 1977, after which young Jim Harbaugh scurries onto the field to bask in his glory.

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Climate change emerges as priority for black and Hispanic voters – by Alexandra Tempus NOV 2 1:45 PM

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It is a point noted with some morbid curiosity year after year — climate change ranks low on the list of Americans’ priorities. But this version of the story tends to exclude the concerns of those whose interests are often marginalized at the polls and left out of legislation: people of color.

Studies show dealing with climate change is a high priority for nonwhite voters. Richard Drew / AP

According to the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight (using data from the Pew Research Center), in 2014, more than 40 percent of nonwhite Americans believe global warming should be a “top priority” for their government, while that number for their white counterparts barely tops 20 percent.

This discrepancy may factor in a number of elections this year, especially in some battleground states with significant minority populations where climate change has emerged as a major policy issue.

In Michigan, where Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land are vying for an open Senate seat, Peters has made climate change one of the central issues of his campaign. The Great Lakes, an economic engine for the state, is threatened by warming in number of ways, including reduced water levels due to evaporation.

“Michigan is on the front lines of climate change,” Peters told The Washington Post.

And while Florida’s incumbent governor, Republican Rick Scott, doubts the human contribution to climate change, his Democratic challenger, former Florida governor (and former Republican) Charlie Crist has promised to make the issue a focus of his administration. Crist has called the multi-coastal, multi-cultural, low-lying state, “the epicenter of this debate.”

As Democrats in swing states, both Peters and Crist will need strong support from minority voters. In the Sunshine State, where the race is neck-and-neck, black voters have been called Crist’s “most crucial” bloc. Peters, who recently polled 15 points ahead of Land, represents Michigan’s 14th congressional district, one of the state’s two majority-minority districts, in the U.S. House.

Ifeoma Ike, co-founder of grassroots organizing group Black & Brown People Vote, recalled the history of the environmental justice movement, pointing out that people of color are disproportionately hurt by climate change in many ways. Minority populations in dense, urban “heat zones,” she said, suffer most from climbing temperatures. As a result, what makes for good politics in minority communities is also changing.

“I think we’re starting see more progressive and millennial groups of color target their resources and their energy towards [the climate] fight,” Ike said.

These races in Florida and Michigan are two of a handful in which California billionaire Tom Steyer’s organization, NextGen Climate, has focused its efforts to elect candidates who are strong on climate issues — as well as taking aim at those who are deemed “climate deniers.” This midterm cycle, NextGen has targeted “a million of what it calls ‘climate voters’ in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire,” according to The New York Times.

Though minority voters are still likely to favor Democrats regardless of a candidate’s climate stance, FiveThirtyEight found that even when controlling for party, nonwhites care more about the issue. Between 2007 and 2013, an average of 50 percent of nonwhite Democrats cited climate change as a top priority. Among white Democrats, that number is less than 40 percent.

Ike conceded that climate change might not yet be the single, determining factor in elections, but added, “I do think it’s increasingly going to be a major issue.”

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Michigan: Democrats’ “war on women’ narrative may be swinging voters – by Peter Moskowitz October 17, 2014 5:00AM ET

The outcome of Michigan’s U.S. Senate race could be impacted by a controversial TV ad suggesting that the fact that Republican candidate Terri Lynn Land is female means she is more in tune with women’s rights than Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters.Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at Oct 17, 2014 3.12

The ad, put out by the Land campaign, ran in April, after Peters accused her of supporting policies unfavorable to women.

“Congressman Gary Peters and his buddies want you to believe I’m waging a war on women,” Land says in the ad. “Really? Think about that for a moment.”

Hold music plays as Land shakes her head and takes a sip from a mug. Then she says, “I approve this message because, as a woman, I might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.”

The Land campaign did not return a request for comment.

The race is by no means over, with a torrent of ad spending still to come, but by most accounts, the ad was a large misstep for the Land campaign. Republican strategist Frank Luntz called it the “worst ad of the political process” and said his focus groups showed virtually no one liked it.

The Land ad and subsequent poll numbers were troubling for her supporters in Michigan, but they may highlight a growing problem for Republicans nationwide.

Both parties see courting women as crucial to winning control of the Senate this year. Democrats have been speaking about the importance of women’s rights at conferences leading up to the election, with Hillary Clinton calling for a women’s “movement” at the polls. They have also been hammering Republicans for their voting records on issues like abortion and birth control as well as less obvious issues that polls show are important to women, like access to social services and raising the minimum wage.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Lily Adams said, “Ensuring women turn out this fall is critical to electing Democrats who will increase opportunity for women and families. Over the next 20 days, Democrats will lay out that contrast between our party that’s fought for pay equity and more ladders to the middle class, and Republicans who shut down the government and continue to spend taxpayer time and money infringing on women’s access to health care.”

Republicans have countered that Democrats are fabricating the “war on women” narrative in order to woo voters away from the Republican Party. Prominent party members like former Senate candidate Carly Fiorina have been making the rounds on talk shows and op-ed pages, calling the Democrats’ narrative “baseless propaganda.”

The Republican National Committee did not return a request for comment.

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Harry Reid shifts funds in effort to maintain Democrats’ Senate majority – By David Sherfinski – Friday, August 15, 2014

Super PAC pours millions into Michigan, Iowa, Colorado ahead of midterm elections

 The super PAC, which has deep ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is instead trying to create a firewall in Colorado, Michigan and New Hampshire. (Associated Press)

Senate Majority PAC, far and away the biggest-spending super political action committee of the election cycle — at nearly $25 million — has begun pouring millions of dollars into Michigan, Iowa and Colorado, signaling just how quickly Democrats have shifted to defense heading into November’s elections.

The super PAC, which has deep ties to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is increasingly limiting its offensive efforts and is instead trying to create a firewall in Colorado, Michigan and even New Hampshire, hoping to halt a potential GOP wave that would net Republicans the six seats needed to capture the chamber and remove Mr. Reid from his leader’s post.


Since July 1 alone, the super PAC has spent more than $671,000 attacking Terri Lynn Land in Michigan, $824,000 against Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado and about $1 million against Republican Joni Ernst in Iowa.

They’re even entering the fray in New Hampshire, where Republican Scott Brown is trailing incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen by double digits in some polls. The group has spent about $350,000 since July 23 and $1 million this cycle on independent expenditures devoted to attacking Mr. Brown.

The investments in new territory reflect just how much the political environment has shifted since earlier this year, when Democrats had hoped to challenge two GOP-held seats in Kentucky and Georgia and to easily hold seats being left vacant by Democratic retirements in Iowa and Michigan.

“I think if Senate Majority PAC were to continue to spend in New Hampshire, that could be a firewall situation, but I think the majority would have been lost by then if we’re talking about New Hampshire going for Scott Brown,” said Nathan L. Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.

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Emails Reveal Extensive Failures In Michigan Prison Food Privatization Scheme – By Alan Pyke on July 13, 2014 at 12:22 pm

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CREDIT: Spirit of America / Shutterstock

A quarter of the workers who are supposed to supply food to Michigan prisons under a privatization deal struck in December are banned from the facilities for misconduct, and prison staff feel the company that now runs the kitchens has focused on its own profits over inmate safety and nutrition, emails obtained by the Detroit Free Press reveal.

Lawmakers turned over Michigan’s prison kitchens to Aramark Corrections in December after the company convinced the state that it could save taxpayers $12 million. But since then, the state has fined the company nearly $100,000for various violations including unauthorized menu changes, insufficient nutrition for inmates, and staff misconduct that endangers both guards and prisoners. Last month, the state warned Aramark that it would begin enforcing nutritional rules more strictly, and hinted that it could rescind the contract entirely if the company didn’t shape up.

Now, far more details of the company’s shortcomings and Department of Corrections officials’ frustration with Aramark are public thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Free Press. The paper received more than 3,000 emails from state and Aramark officials. The messages paint a grim picture:

–74 of the roughly 300 Aramark employees who are supposed to work on the contract have been banned from Michigan prison facilities for violations including showing up drunk to work, having sexual contact with inmates, and attempting to smuggle drugs into the prisons.

–”Aramark officials were upset” that a prison employee told inmates to report problems with the food to staff to ensure that the company was held accountable to the standards in the contract.

–Prison officials and Aramark workers were concerned that a batch of meatballs smelled rotten after the freezer where they were stored broke down for a few days, but the company served the meat anywayafter a supervisor reportedly told them “it only smelled funny because part of it was turkey, and they should serve it.” About 100 inmates at another facility fell ill with “an as-yet-undetermined bug,” according to the newspaper.

–Despite publicly downplaying problems with menu substitutions and meals that fall short of nutritional requirements, Aramark emails show the company was far more distressed in private. A January email from an Aramark Vice President to subordinates indicated that the nutritional problems were occurring daily despite repeated warnings to tighten up the company’s operation, and warned the recipients that “Enough is enough.”

–A prison official said Aramark’s top priority was counting the number of meals served, which is the basis for what the company gets paid, and as a result guards were left to cover other tasks that should be part of the food service operation, such as monitoring the food line to make sure inmates weren’t stealing food.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” the Department of Corrections official in charge of monitoring the contract emailed to a colleague in March. “Bottom line is lay down with dogs, get up with fleas,” the colleague replied.

From Aramark’s perspective, though, prisons operations are a bright spot on the accounting sheet. Its most recent quarterly report praised corrections contracts as a primary growth area in the multinational company’s portfolio.

The profit stream may be good news for shareholders and executives, but the company’s track record in the prison food business is not so great for incarcerated people, guards, and taxpayers. The company’s poor handling of a food contract was blamed for causing riots in a Kentucky prison in 2009, and issues similar to the ones Michigan officials report have cropped up in Aramark-run prison kitchens in Florida, Ohio, and Indiana.

The Latest Affirmative Action Decision Isn’t Just About Race – Patricia J. Williams April 30, 2014

The Supreme Court’s decision sweeps away decades of equal protection precedent.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The name of the Supreme Court’s latest case involving university admissions describes the battle lines: Schuette, Attorney General of Michigan v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary. When the Court found for Schuette, headlines declared the decision a landmark ruling against affirmative action. But technically, the Court did not retreat from its prior holdings: race sensitivity is still a constitutionally permissible criterion when weighing the applications of similarly qualified candidates.

The case addressed a challenge to Article I, Section 26, of the Michigan Constitution, which altered the decision-making capacity of the regents and trustees of the state’s public university system. Section 26 took away those boards’ ability to use otherwise constitutionally permissible race-sensitive criteria for admissions—i.e., a backdoor way of banning affirmative action in the state. Schuette was also a broad capitulation to an old notion of states’ rights, allowing localities to opt out of federal equal-protection measures designed to dismantle segregation. Following this ruling, states can merely override those measures, one by one. The bottom line? What is expressly permissible as a matter of the US Constitution is now forbidden in Michigan. Not only that, it has removed affirmative action in Michigan from the democratic process. Where once these policies were negotiated through elected university boards, requiring a degree of popular will, Section 26 has ended discussion with a blanket ban.

The university boards can still consider all sorts of other admissions factors. Your father wants to underwrite a chair in Old Church Slavonic poetry? Welcome to the class of 2018! Your great-grandmother’s cousin was an alumna? Walk on in! You’re an athlete? Here’s your scholarship—just don’t try to unionize, ha ha ha!

But consider another scenario. You have one place to fill and two applicants—a white kid from Grosse Pointe, and a black kid who has risen from the ashes of Detroit’s segregated, postindustrial dystopia to achieve the same scores. Put on the blindfold! We don’t see color here. According to Section 26, it’s unlawful to weigh the black kid’s distinct experiences because that would constitute either an act of discrimination against the majority white population or a grant of preferential treatment for minorities.

This matter of discriminating against the majority is something that the more conservative members of the Court have dwelled on in the past. Yet as Justice Sotomayor points out in her dissent, majorities—by definition—need no protection, because they can vote down policies contrary to their interests. What they ought not be able to do, she argues, is structure the process so that one group is burdened, as here, with no option but silence.

In Schuette, Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, held that the Supreme Court will not strike down state laws that bar government decision-makers from considering an otherwise legal option. This decision imposes an inane double bind that makes remedying all sorts of equal-protection claims impossible. Sure enough, since the opinion was published, Attorney General Bill Schuette, the named appellant, has been pressing his appeal to reinstate Michigan’s ban on gay marriage with renewed relish.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent presents a detailed history of the fight for full citizenship through equal protection, expositing three generations of legal struggle. First, targeted minorities won the right to vote—a goal that has been codified in law. Second is the ongoing struggle against measures designed to make voting difficult or impossible, through poll taxes, gerrymandering and so forth. The third challenge is the problem in Schuette: whether a majority may “reconfigure the existing political process in a manner that creates a two-tiered system of political change, subjecting laws designed to protect or benefit discrete and insular minorities to a more burdensome political process than all other laws.” Here, it is the restructuring of a government decision-making process that places “substantial and unique burdens” on minorities seeking to be heard.

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