Tag Archives: judge

A Loss in the Courts Won’t Stop Missouri’s Anti-Abortion Wave

Mother Jones

For decades, Missouri has embarked on a quest to eliminate abortion access. Earlier this year, state legislators filed some 14 anti-abortion proposals before the start of the session, making it a prominent example of emboldened efforts on the state level in the Trump era. Those measures were dealt a blow last week when a federal judge suspended two longstanding abortion restrictions in the state, but with the GOP controlling every level of the state’s government, state lawmakers are undeterred in their efforts to restrict abortion access.

Today, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is the state’s sole abortion provider licensed to serve approximately 1.2 million women of reproductive age, many of whom would face a 370 mile drive to access services, a process further protracted by a mandatory 72-hour waiting period. “People are driving hours to St. Louis, or they’re crossing over the state line into Kansas or other states in order to access services,” says Laura McQuade, the President and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, one of the Planned Parenthood affiliates that filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Missouri restrictions.

As a leader in restricting abortion access, Missouri passed laws more than a decade ago that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and abortion clinics to meet the same structural requirements as ambulatory surgical centers. These laws were subsequently also passed in Texas, where they were challenged and finally struck down by the Supreme Court in a 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016.

Last week, in response to a challenge filed last fall by two Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri clinics, US District Court Judge Howard Sachs agreed to enjoin Missouri’s version of the restrictions. Sachs first announced his decision in an April 3 memo sent to the parties involved in the case. In his decision, Sachs noted that the restrictions had negatively affected women in the state and failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. “The abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion,” he said. “The public interest clearly favors prompt relief.” The restrictions will be halted while the effort to permanently strike down the laws moves through the courts.

Sachs’ ruling could have an immediate impact on abortion access in the state. Shortly after the decision was announced, the Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliates released a joint statement confirming their desire to increase the number of local abortion providers by expanding services to four additional Planned Parenthood locations. But Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has promised to appeal the decision, saying that it was “wrong” with the dire consequence that laws that “protect the health and safety of women who seek to obtain an abortion” can no longer be enforced.

Last week’s ruling, however, is unlikely to deter state legislators from pursuing further abortion restrictions. Around the same time that Sachs issued the April 3 memo announcing his intent to grant the injunction, two Republican state Senators, frustrated that they were unable to block a St. Louis nondiscrimination ordinance protecting women that are pregnant, use birth control, or have had an abortion, took time during a discussion of tax hikes benefiting the state zoo to joke that women should go to the St. Louis Zoo for abortions, suggesting that it was “safer” and better regulated than the state’s lone abortion provider.

Meanwhile, shortly after Republicans in Congress moved to defund Planned Parenthood, state Republican Rep. Robert Ross proposed an amendment to House Bill 11—an appropriations bill for the Missouri Department of Social Services—that would allow the state to prevent “abortion services” providers from receiving state family planning funding. This could potentially include any group that provides even abortion referrals upon request. Allison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri characterized the amended bill as having the potential to create “a public health crisis in our state, if family planning clinics, hospitals, and Planned Parenthood are defunded from Medicaid reimbursement.” The measure passed the House on a 107-39 vote and is now with the Senate.

Missouri lawmakers have faced some unintended consequences in their zeal to cut back on family planning services. In 2016, the state rejected the federal family planning funding it had received through Extended Women’s Health Services, a Medicaid program for low-income women funded by both the state and federal governments. Federal law already prevents Medicaid from reimbursing providers for the costs of most abortions, but Missouri legislators hoped to go further by completely cutting off funding to groups like Planned Parenthood by rejecting some $8.3 million dollars in federal funds, opting to create a state-funded program that would no longer have to abide by federal rules mandating that patients have the ability to choose their health care provider.

In the months leading up to the measure taking effect, Missouri has moved to block all abortion providers, including hospitals, from receiving family planning funding. But to the consternation of Missouri conservatives, many Planned Parenthood clinics in the state remained eligible for the program because they are not permitted to provide abortions. “Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently the Department of Social Services was confused,” Ross said when discussing his proposed amendment earlier this month, according to reports from the Missouri House of Representatives newsroom. Ross’ HB 11 amendment would change things by ensuring that even those who provide information about or referrals for abortions are excluded from the funding program.

“They have defined ‘abortion services’ so broadly that it is going to basically decimate the entire family planning network across the state of Missouri,” says Michelle Trupiano, the executive director of the Missouri Family Health Council, which allocates funding to 71 clinics in the state under the federal government’s Title X family planning program.

Trupiano notes that under the conditions of Title X, many of the state’s family planning providers are required to offer abortion referrals upon request, a mandate that could open them up to losing funding should HB 11 be adopted. “There wouldn’t be a single provider that could participate in the program,” she adds. With less than a month remaining in Missouri’s legislative session, advocates have begun lobbying lawmakers in hopes of defeating the amendment.

But given the history, advocates say, some lawmakers in Missouri will do anything to restrict abortion, even if it means an overall reduction in access for women to health care options in the process. “Responsible legislators want to move forward to other issues,” McQuade says. “But this is what Missouri is choosing to spend its time on right now. It’s deeply disheartening.”

Original link: 

A Loss in the Courts Won’t Stop Missouri’s Anti-Abortion Wave

Posted in FF, GE, LAI, LG, ONA, PUR, Radius, Safer, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump Is Playing Chicken With Millions of Health Plans. The Result Might Be a Government Shutdown.

Mother Jones

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd”>

Members of Congress are home in their districts until next week, but when they come back to town they’ll be facing an imminent government shutdown—unless they manage to pass last-minute legislation to keep federal programs funded. A shutdown now appears a little more likely thanks to some gamesmanship from President Donald Trump over Obamacare that prompted Democrats to issue threats of their own last week.

The showdown involves an Obamacare program know as “cost sharing reduction,” which requires insurance companies to offer discounted copayments and deductibles to low-income people who buy health plans on the individual market. In return, the federal government makes payments to compensate insurers for this expense. Last week, Trump threatened to stop making these payments to insurers—a move that could lead to massive price spikes for millions of people and cause insurers to flee from the individual marketplaces.

By issuing the threat, Trump was attempting to scare Democrats into agreeing to repeal Obamacare. “Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt…What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

But Trump’s gambit may have backfired. Democratic leaders are now saying they might not vote to keep the government funded next week unless that funding bill includes a provision appropriating money specifically for the cost sharing reductions. “We will not negotiate with hostage takers,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) warned last week.

Democrats may actually have a surprisingly strong negotiating position. Despite controlling both chambers of Congress, the GOP needs their help to keep the government open. Republicans will need support from at least eight Democratic senators in order to avoid a filibuster. And given House Republicans’ penchant for defying party leadership, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) might also need some Democratic votes to overcome conservative objections to the funding bill.

When it comes to the controversies surrounding Obamacare, the cost sharing reduction payments have received relatively little attention. But they are an essential component of how the law makes insurance affordable for lower-income families. For anyone who makes less than 250 percent of the federal poverty line ($30,150 for an individual, $61,500 for a family of four), the government pays insurance companies to lower out-of-pocket costs.

About 58 percent of people who purchase insurance through Obamacare’s marketplaces qualify for the reduced copays and deductibles, totaling more than 7 million people. For consumers, the savings can be substantial. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that for people below 150 percent of the poverty line, average deductibles dropped from $3,609 to $255 thanks to the program. It all adds up to $7 billion in federal spending for 2017, and it’s projected to rise to $10 billion next year and $11 billion in 2019.

The current debate revolves around a quirk in the way the law was written. The Affordable Care Act requires the government to reimburse insurance companies, but lawmakers apparently failed to include a provision to explicitly “appropriate” money for these payments. (It’s not enough for Congress to authorize a program; under the Constitution, Congress must also appropriate funds for a program before the government can spend money on it.) The Obama administration started to dole out the funds anyway, citing a different appropriation authority, but House Republicans objected and sued. A federal judge sided with Republicans last year, though that decision was stayed pending appeal. (The details are too convoluted to explain in full here, but Vox has a great description.)

After Trump won the presidency, House Republicans asked the courts to hold off on the case, since they’re hoping they can end the program by repealing Obamacare. Now, the Trump administration has until May 22 to let the court know if it still plans to appeal the ruling. If Trump chooses, the administration could unilaterally drop the case and let stand the lower court decision barring the payments.

But while the administration can choose to stop making the payments to insurance companies, insurers would still be required to offer discounted policies. On that point, the law is explicit: Insurance companies must reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income consumers. In other words, they would still have to offer cheaper copays and deductibles—just without the government assistance they were promised.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, in order to offset those lost funds, insurers would have to increase premiums by 19 percent on average. That increase would not be evenly distributed across the country, though. The rate increase would likely be far less drastic in states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, since Medicaid provides government-sponsored insurance to low-income people who would otherwise use the individual marketplaces. North Dakota would see the smallest premium spike if the payments to insurers stopped—a 10-percent increase. By contrast, insurance premiums would rise 27 percent in Mississippi and 25 percent in Florida and Alabama.

It isn’t just Democratic politicians who are crying foul over Trump’s threats. The health care industry industry last week implored Trump to maintain funding for the subsidies. In a letter to the president—signed by the American Medical Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, BlueCross BlueShield, and the US Chamber of Commerce—industry groups warned that unless Trump makes clear that he’s going to continue the payments, insurers will flee the markets in 2018, and premiums for the remaining options will skyrocket.

“The most critical action to help stabilize the individual market for 2017 and 2018,” the letter says, “is to remove uncertainty about continued funding for cost sharing reductions.”

Read this article:

Trump Is Playing Chicken With Millions of Health Plans. The Result Might Be a Government Shutdown.

Posted in FF, G & F, GE, LAI, LG, ONA, PUR, Radius, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

Mother Jones

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd”>

A federal judge Monday ruled that the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against African American and Hispanic voters when it enacted a draconian voter ID law in 2011. The ruling could pave the way for courts to require Texas to get approval from federal authorities before making future changes to its voting laws.

This is the second time Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has found that state lawmakers purposefully engaged in illegal discrimination when it adopted the photo ID requirement in 2011. In 2014, Ramos found that the law had a discriminatory effect and intent. A finding of discriminatory effect is sufficient to force a voting law to be change, but a discriminatory intent finding can open a state up to more significant punishments. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ramos’ finding of discriminatory effect but asked her to reconsider the question of intent. Her ruling on Monday reaffirmed her previous decision.

Critics of the photo ID law pointed to the fact that Texas lawmakers allowed voters to use concealed gun permits, which are more likely to be held by white voters. But the law disallowed identification cards issued to state employees and public university students, which are more likely to be used by minorities. In her opinion, Ramos pointed out that Republican lawmakers refused to include more forms of acceptable ID, reduce the cost of acquiring an ID, adopt a more lenient policy toward expired documents, or approve voter education about the new requirements. “These efforts revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on nonracial grounds, to suppress minority voting,” Ramos wrote in her opinion.

In 2013, the Department of Justice joined civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers, and voters in challenging the law. On the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the department signaled that it might change its position. In February, the department’s lawyers asked the court to allow the US government to withdraw from the case and urged. The DOJ also urged Ramos not to rule on the intent question until the Texas legislature had taken steps this spring to amend the law, which the Fifth Circuit had ordered it to do. Ramos allowed the federal government to withdraw from this part of the case but rejected its request to hold off on the intent ruling. However, Ramos did indicate that she would wait until the legislature recessed to issue any remedy in conjunction with her findings.

The intent finding is a major victory for voting rights advocates because the courts have wide latitude to remedy intentional racial discrimination. Most importantly, a finding of intent allows the courts, if they choose, to put jurisdictions under federal oversight so that future changes to election procedures must be approved by the DOJ. Civil rights groups are requesting such a remedy and feel their argument for putting Texas back under federal supervision—which ended when the Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013—is strong. Last month, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio found, in a separate case, that Republicans had racially gerrymandered congressional districts in order to weaken the growing power of minority voters. Taken together, voting rights attorneys believe the two findings of racially discriminatory intent make a convincing case that Texas should be placed under federal supervision.

“This is a great win for Texas voters, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said in a statement after Ramos’ ruling. “Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters, without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through.”

View original article:

Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

Posted in FF, GE, LAI, LG, ONA, PUR, Radius, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

Mother Jones

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd”>

Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old transgender boy from Virginia, has had a rough few months. He’s suing for access to the boys’ bathroom at his high school, and in March the Supreme Court announced that it was kicking this landmark transgender rights case back to a federal appeals court.

Today, that appeals court rejected his request to expedite his case, which means it won’t be heard until after he graduates. But along with today’s order, Judge Andre Davis of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals penned a remarkable, must-read tribute to the teen, calling him a “brave individual” and quoting Dr. Martin Luther King:

Our country has a long and ignominious history of discriminating against our most vulnerable and powerless. We have an equally long history, however, of brave individuals—Dred Scott, Fred Korematsu, Linda Brown, Mildred and Richard Loving, Edie Windsor, and Jim Obergefell, to name just a few—who refused to accept quietly the injustices that were perpetuated against them. It is unsurprising, of course, that the burden of confronting and remedying injustice falls on the shoulders of the oppressed. These individuals looked to the federal courts to vindicate their claims to human dignity, but as the names listed above make clear, the judiciary’s response has been decidedly mixed. Today, G.G. adds his name to the list of plaintiffs whose struggle for justice has been delayed and rebuffed; as Dr. King reminded us, however, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” G.G.’s journey is delayed but not finished.

The tribute ends with a footnote of a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Read the whole thing here.

Original article – 

It’s Not Every Day That a Federal Judge Pens a Tribute to a Transgender Teen

Posted in alo, FF, GE, LAI, Landmark, LG, ONA, Radius, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeff Sessions Does Not Think Your Local Police Department Is His Problem

Mother Jones

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday ordered a review of all reform agreements between the Department of Justice and police departments nationwide, such as a recent consent decree entered to overhaul the troubled Baltimore Police Department. In a memo to DOJ staff, Sessions wrote that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.” The review—which will be led by Sessions’ two top deputies—was ordered as part of a broader assessment of all DOJ activities.

The move alarmed civil rights and police reform advocates. “We have a very serious problem in this country with the relationship between police and the communities they serve,” Jonathan Smith, who oversaw nearly two dozen investigations into police departments as head of the Special Litigation Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, told Mother Jones in a phone interview. Sessions’ memo signals “a retreat from the federal government’s commitment” to ensuring police departments comply with the Constitution, Smith said, adding that widespread misconduct in police departments is “not about bad police officers. It’s about bad systems, lack of accountability, bad policies, and bad practices.”

Under Obama, the Department of Justice opened 25 civil rights investigations into police departments and enforced 14 consent decrees, or agreements with departments that mandate reforms. All of them are all still active. In mid-January, the DOJ announced that it had reached a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department and an agreement with the Chicago Police Department to pursue a decree just days before Trump’s inauguration. The investigation into CPD—and the negotiation process for BPD’s consent decree—were reportedly rushed to a close due to fear that both would stall under Trump. Sessions criticized the use of consent decrees during his confirmation hearings and has said the DOJ will “pull back” on police oversight efforts under his leadership.

A report released in February by Samuel Walker, a police reform expert at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, determined that most consent decrees enforced by the Department of Justice since 1994—when Congress passed legislation granting the DOJ oversight authority over local police agencies—have been successful in achieving long-term reforms. Consent decrees are binding legal agreements, and once signed, they are overseen by a federal judge and an appointed monitor. The DOJ’s ability to interfere with that process is limited, Smith said.

But there are things the DOJ can do to undermine it. It could ignore violations of decrees and stop taking police departments to court because of them. It could also seek to renegotiate the terms of a decree or to have it dropped altogether—though that would be difficult even with the cooperation of a police department, Smith said. “After all, these injunctions are entered to protect the public interest,” Smith said.

Sessions’ review calls into question whether the DOJ will follow through on enforcing a nascent consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department or enter into a decree with the Chicago Police Department at all. After Sessions sent out the memo calling for the review, DOJ attorneys asked a Maryland judge to delay a court hearing so that it could “review and assess” Baltimore’s consent decree. The city’s mayor and police chief said on Monday that they oppose any delay in the process. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police chief also said in a joint statement yesterday they are committed to following through on the police reforms recommended by the DOJ’s report whether or not the federal government is involved. The DOJ launched investigations into the Baltimore Police Department and Chicago Police Department in 2015 amid outrage over the police-involved deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore and Laquan McDonald in Chicago.

Sessions has already suggested that the DOJ will stop opening new civil rights investigations into police departments. And President Donald Trump’s March budget proposal would cut more than $1 billion from the department’s resources. Funding for the department’s Civil Rights Division—which handles police reform work—is not addressed explicitly in the budget outline, but a blueprint drafted by the Heritage Foundation, from which parts of Trump’s budget appear to be lifted, would cut $58 million from the Civil Rights Division, or 33 percent of its current budget.

Christy Lopez, who also helped to oversee police reform investigations at the DOJ under Obama, said such a drastic budget cut would be a “silent killer” of the Civil Rights Division, including its work on police reform. “At that point it’s not a matter of will. You just don’t have the people” or resources to open new cases or follow up on existing consent decrees, Lopez said. “There were dozens of cases we wanted to do but couldn’t because we didn’t have the staff,” Smith said of his police reform work at the DOJ.

Given the tone Sessions and Trump have set, Smith thinks state attorneys general will now be crucial to ensuring police accountability and should exercise more oversight over their local police departments. “If the federal government is not going to do it, the states in general and other local bodies are critical to this process,” Smith said. States could mimic legislation like that in California, for example, that gives the state attorney general the authority to conduct DOJ-style investigations into local police departments and pursue a consent decree, Smith said. “There are 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. The US Department of Justice is never going to get to those. But an attorney general can really make an enormous difference in their state.”

Read article here:  

Jeff Sessions Does Not Think Your Local Police Department Is His Problem

Posted in FF, GE, Jason, Landmark, LG, ONA, PUR, Radius, Uncategorized, Venta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment