Archive for the 'Government' CategoryPage 2 of 65

Montana Congressman Gianforte Pleads Guilty to Assault, but Can He Face a Lawsuit?

Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte may have won election on May 25th, but his actions the previous night have already cast a shadow on his victory. Newly elected Congressman Gianforte was at a campaign rally/barbecue addressing a news crew from Fox News. Guardian Reporter Ben Jacobs entered the room and inquired Gianforte about his stance on the healthcare bill in the Senate after the Congressional Budget Office had given its score on the bill.

After Jacobs pressed Gianforte three times for an answer, Gianforte attacked Jacobs. Audio recording reveals shows signs of scuffing, Gianforte yelling “I’m sick and tired of you guys!” followed by Jacobs accusing Gianforte of body-slamming Jacobs and breaking the reporter’s glasses. The Fox News crew in the room testified that Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck, slammed him into the ground, and then proceeded to punch the journalist a few times. Jacobs was taken to the hospital, although his injuries were not severe.

Gianforte’s campaign denied the allegations, instead accusing Jacobs of being a “liberal” who agitated Gianforte with his questions. However, the witnesses clearly stated that “at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte.” After winning though, Gianforte apologized to Jacobs in his victory speech.

Gianforte was charged with misdemeanor assault a few hours after the attack. He has since pled guilty of assault and received 180-day deferred sentence, 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management, $300 fine, and $85 court fee. The deferred sentence means that Gianforte will not be facing any time in jail. However, the victim himself, Jacobs, could also bring a civil suit against the Congressman to recover for his own injuries.

Can Jacobs Successfully Sue the Congressman?

Normally, a private citizen cannot sue a public official for decisions that the official makes while in office. However, the Constitution’s “speech and debate” clause would not apply to the Jacobs case because Gianforte was not yet a Congressman when he allegedly assaulted Jacob. Even if Gianforte had been elected at that point though, Gianforte would still be potentially liable because hitting reporters is not a function of Congress and not be constitutionally protected.

Proving assault (and battery) would actually be very simple in a case like this. Jacobs would have to prove that Gianforte intended to cause reasonable fear of imminent harm. The audio shows that that attack was very intention on Gianforte’s part, as the Congressman declared “I’m sick and tired of you guys!” while hitting the reporter.

It’s questionable whether Jacobs felt any fear before the attack, as the attack seems to have happened so quickly that Jacobs had little time to react other than comment on his injuries – “Did you body slam me?” and “You broke my glasses.” Nevertheless, these types of remarks would likely be used as a means of showing that Jacobs did fear for his safety. Witness testimony also points that Gianforte grabbed his victim by the neck, which would cause most people to be afraid for their lives. However, it’s important to note that Gianforte doesn’t have to actually touch Jacob’s person to involve fear. Simply grabbing an object close to Jacob, such as his clothing or the recorder in Jacob’s hand, would be enough to satisfy this element.

Many online commenters have attempted to defend Gianforte by claiming that Jacobs entered the room uninvited or that Jacobs “deserved” it because Jacobs is a “liberal journalist.” Neither of those defenses would hold up in a court of law. The former is excessive force that the law doesn’t allow. Gianforte could have simply answered or ignored the question. Gianforte could have threatened to call security or the police. Instead, a Congressman chose to use violence against a man who was simply doing his job.

The latter is commentary about political beliefs, but has zero relevance as to whether or not the reporter was assaulted. The law is the law regardless of whether a person is liberal or conservative. The fact that line of thought – “liberal journalist” was even used to justify the assault is appalling beyond words, as it dehumanizes a man merely for having opinions.

If Jacobs is successful in court, and assuming Gianforte doesn’t want to settle before trial, Jacobs would be owed his compensatory damages, including medical expenses, repair or replacement for his glasses, and compensation for time off or emotional trauma. The judge might also consider adding punitive damages, as this case must serve as an example that physical violence is not acceptable in the public discourse, not even from a sitting Congressman.

ICE Faces Criticism for “Sensitive Locations Policy”

Out in New Jersey, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Stuart Rabner has come out hard against the exception in the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. In a letter asking for an end to the practice, the high ranking judge criticizes ICE’s practice of waiting in courthouses for undocumented immigrants who are victims of a crime, defendants in a case, or simply there to testify in proceedings. He argues that the practice not only denies access to the courts to people who are undocumented by making them fear arrest and deportation, it also torpedoes the legal process by guaranteeing a lack of cooperation in ongoing cases where somebody might get grabbed by ICE on the way out of testifying against a criminal.

He’s not criticizing the practice for no reason. Just in the last couple months ICE agents have arrested several undocumented immigrants in courthouses. Just recently they have arrested a woman  seeking a protection order  to keep her safe from an abusive spouse. Another man was arrested as he left a proceeding, otherwise free to go after a civil case.

ICE agents have responded to Rabner with a resounding no. As written, the Sensitive Locations Policy places no restrictions on arrests made at courthouses. Even if it did, the actual protections of the policy are far from absolute even where they do apply.

ICEICE’s Sensitive Locations Policy

The Sensitive Locations Policy is very much what it sounds like-a policy of ICE limiting enforcement actions at sensitive locations. These locations include schools (either at the school or when a parent is picking up or dropping off a child), medical treatment facilities, places of worship, ceremonies like weddings and funerals, or during public demonstrations such as a march or rally for a cause. You’ll notice courthouses are nowhere on that list.

Courthouses not only don’t make the cut in this policy as written, they are explicitly not included. Even if they were, the policy isn’t a blanket ban on arrests in sensitive locations but rather more of a strong suggestion. First, it only limits enforcement actions. This includes actual apprehensions, arrests, searches, or surveillance. However, it doesn’t include them entering a sensitive location to get records or documents to later use against undocumented immigrants, serving subpoenas or notice of proceedings, and other more administrative actions.

Although it suggests that arrests at sensitive locations be avoided, the policy doesn’t stop ICE from making arrests.  Agents just need permission from a supervisor before proceeding. Even without permission, they can make an arrest-so long as they do so as discreetly as possible-where there are circumstances related to national security, terrorism,  public safety, or destruction of evidence.

The policy is in place to ensure that everybody is free to utilize crucial services without fear of repercussion. Education, health care, worship-all incredibly important. Doesn’t it seem odd that legal services aren’t on that list? Don’t we want everybody to enjoy the protections of the law and help others when they witness crimes? The protection of our laws-both for undocumented immigrants and citizens whose cases they might testify in-are a similarly crucial service to education of health care. However, the sad truth is that even were courthouses included in the policy the protections might still not be enough.

Sensitive Locations Policy Not as Strong a Protection as it Was

To say that the attitude towards immigration has changed after the Obama administration passed the torch to President Trump. Besides Trump’s failed immigration ban orders, he has also issued an executive order which drastically changes the approach of ICE agents.

Under the Obama administration, ICE agents were told to prioritize targeting gang members and violent criminals for deportation. For the most part, they were not going after anybody else. Trump’s order substantially expands those ICE is meant to target. Under Trump the agency is to target, in no particular order, undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.” If that sounds extremely broad, that’s because it is. Gone are the days of prioritization, every illegal immigrant is equally targeted.

What Trump’s order notably does not do is change the Sensitive Locations Policy, he has given ICE agents much wider leeway in how they act. This has led to much less strict consideration of the policy than in previous years. Just in the last few months ICE agents have raided a pre-school in San Francisco (apparently mistakenly), arrested a California man right after he dropped off his daughter at school and while he drove his other daughter to her classes. In Virginia, two men were arrested as they left the homeless shelter offered by their church.

Judge Rabner has a good point, access to the courts is crucial for our justice system to operate properly. However, as it stands it looks like the protection the Sensitive Location Policy would offer to undocumented immigrants seeking the protection of the law would be middling at best.

On This Day: Loving v. Virginia Paves the Way to Our Future

On June 12th, 1967 the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared that the State of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, a law that prevents mixed race marriage, was unconstitutional. For Richard and Mildred Loving, and so many others, the Court declared that the law violated their right for Due Process and Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment.

To this day, many legal scholars and writers view this landmark decision as a turning point for civil rights in America. But what happened? What made the Court go against years of “tradition”? What happened to Richard and Mildred Loving, and why does this case affect us today?

Loving v. VirginiaThe Facts Behind Loving v. Virginia

In 1958, while asleep in their bed, Mildred and Richard Loving were raided by the police and then charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Their marriage certificate was framed on the wall, but ignored by Virginia officials as they considered their marriage to be invalid within Virginia. Since they were violating the law, they pled guilty, and were offered a suspended sentence so long as they leave Virginia for at least 25 years.

Before they brought their case to the Supreme Court, interracial marriage was not viewed favorably. At the time, over 15 states had active laws against interracial marriage. In fact, interracial marriage was considered a felony and you can even sue successfully for an annulment if your spouse is determined to be of mixed-race. Every case that brought forward the question of whether the law can ban interracial marriage always found in favor of upholding the ban. The legal system only focused on whether an interracial marriage law equally applied and controlled whites and non-whites. So if there was an interracial couple, the legal system only wanted to make sure that the white person was also equally punished as the non-white person. If the white person was let off more leniently, then, and only then, would the Court think the law is unconstitutional.

The reality is that most of the nation moved past banning interracial marriage. But just 12 years earlier, in 1954, did public schools even begin to de-segregate their student population. It was such a slow march to equality, and it wasn’t until Richard and Mildred Loving entered the picture did civil rights leaders realize they had a chance to strike down laws that ban interracial marriage.

The Warren Court and Their Place in the Civil Rights Movement

When their case came before Justice Earl Warren and the other Justices of the United States Supreme Court, the Court once again shocked the nation by declaring Virginia’s interracial ban to be unconstitutional. Warren was famously quoted as saying that:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes…is to surely deprive all State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law… Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

They added that there was “no legitimate overriding purpose” to the law, except to maintain White Supremacy. As the Court could find no other reason for the law, except to limit the freedom of all citizens (including white citizens) they overturned Virginia’s decision and effectively made all interracial marriage bans unenforceable.

How the Story Ends, for the Lovings and for Us

While Richard and Mildred Loving were a legally married couple and their rights restored to them, Richard died in 1975 when a drunk driver struck his car. Mildred survived the crash, and lived until 2008 when she passed away at the age of 68.

Even though they may not have gotten to spend their golden years together, their stance against interracial marriage bans have helped so many other Americans. Many legal scholars and writers think that Loving v. Virginia is what paved the way for same-sex marriage, determined in the case Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The opinion of Justice Kennedy invokes the same language, emotion, and determination as the decision in Loving.

Many studies show that interracial marriages are at an all-time high in the U.S. with 1 in 6 married couples considered to be a mixed-race couple. The number of mixed-race children are also rising, giving the way to a future that is not divided by color or ethnicity.

While it is not an officially recognized holiday, Americans across the nation celebrate Loving Day on June 12th to remember how far our nation has come and to be hopeful for a bright future. Every American, even those who are not in a mixed-race relationship and/or not of mixed-race, can be grateful for Richard and Mildred Loving’s courage to stand up against those who tried to infringe and regulate their liberty.

On this day in history, the United States of America made a great step towards liberty and equality for all.

Trump Pushes Travel Ban Towards U.S. Supreme Court

The Trump Administration recently filed a petition to the United States Supreme Court requesting it hear its appeal of a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit regarding Trump’s controversial travel ban. The Fourth Circuit Court upheld a lower court’s decision in Maryland which blocked implementation of the travel ban. Another lower court in Hawaii also blocked implementation of the travel ban. Trump signed the travel ban into effect via executive order earlier this year. The Ninth Circuit Court heard oral arguments from the government requesting reversal of the Hawaii court’s decision, but a decision on that appeal has yet to be issued. In addition to the petition to the Supreme Court to review the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision on the merits, the Trump Administration has asked the Supreme Court to grant stays of the lower court rulings in both Maryland and Hawaii. The Supreme Court generally makes a decision on stays quickly, and if it does in this case, the travel ban will be reinstated while the nation, and world, wait to hear its decision regarding the Fourth Circuit.

TrumpThe Arguments For and Against the Travel Ban

Trump’s travel ban targets individuals from six predominantly Muslim countries, temporarily preventing them from entering the United States for a period of 90 days. According to the Trump Administration, the purpose of the ban is to keep the country safe from terrorism until proper vetting procedures are put into place. In its petition to the Supreme Court, the Administration argues the President has broad power pursuant to the Constitution and Acts of Congress to stop outside individuals from entering the United States when he deems it a necessary security measure, particularly when the countries involved “sponsor or shelter” terrorist activity.

But challengers to the travel ban say it violates the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from interfering with the free exercise of religion. They further argue the travel ban is a clear abuse of the President’s power, resulting from his hostile views toward Muslims as demonstrated during his presidential campaign.

Supporters of Trump and his travel ban may be looking to the President’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch for its reinstatement, but it is difficult to say where the newly appointed justice stands on the issue. In his confirmation hearings earlier this year, Associate Justice Gorsuch emphasized the importance of protecting freedom of religion, as guaranteed under the Constitution. During his testimony, he went on to state the Supreme Court has held that due process rights extend to undocumented individuals in the United States, and he would apply the law.

The Issues That Are Now Before the Supreme Court

A key legal question in this case is the constitutionality of Trump’s executive order implementing the travel ban, and whether he has exceeded the scope of his presidential authority by barring entry of aliens into the United States. In addition to its argument that the President has broad authority to suspend or restrict entry when he deems it in the nation’s interest, the Trump Administration asserts in its petition that the Supreme Court has never nullified religion-neutral government action based on mere speculation about an official’s ill-disposed motivations, particularly when such speculation is based on statements made by the official during a political campaign. The Administration requests the Supreme Court grant its petition for review of the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision before its summer recess begins end of June, which would allow both sides to prepare for oral argument when the Supreme Court’s new term begins in the fall. The Supreme Court has asked the challengers to the travel ban to respond to the petition by June 12.

All eyes will be on the Supreme Court as it decides fairly soon what to do with the government’s urgent requests, decisions that will be highly impactful in the months to come. It will take five votes from the Supreme Court justices to stay the two lower court decisions blocking the travel ban, and four votes for the petition for review of the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision to be granted. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the stay requests is expected soon; if granted, it will immediately reinstate the travel ban. This poses a potential problem for challengers to the travel ban, which imposes a 90-day restriction on individuals trying to enter the United States. If the Supreme Court grants review of the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision, and it is expected it will (in light of the constitutional issues at stake regarding the scope of a president’s power), the travel ban would no longer be in effect by the new Supreme Court term in the fall, making the case moot at that point.

20-Week Abortion Ban From Tennessee Means Big Changes for Pregnant Women

The governor of Tennessee recently signed a bill into law, effective July 1, which further regulates abortion in the state. Under this newly enacted measure, called the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act,” doctors are subject to criminal liability if they perform an abortion on a viable fetus and fail to show it was necessary to prevent the death or substantial and irreversible harm to the pregnant woman’s major bodily functions. A doctor may face license suspension and imprisonment for failing to comply with the act.

What Constitutes a “Viable” Fetus?

Under the act, once a fetus is viable, abortion is prohibited. “Viable” is defined as the stage of fetal development when an unborn child is able to survive outside the womb, with or without medical intervention. In Tennessee, there is a “rebuttable presumption” of viability at the gestational age of 24 weeks. (Gestational age is calculated from the first day of a pregnant woman’s last menstrual period.)

Though the act is often termed the “20-week abortion ban,” proponents of the act argue it merely requires doctors to assess fetal viability at the 20-week point in gestational age, if there is no medical emergency warranting a physician to immediately induce or perform an abortion. A physician’s good faith medical judgment that the fetus is not viable is an affirmative defense under the act.

What Medical Conditions Fall Under the Act?

If a physician determines the fetus is viable, the other affirmative defense is the abortion was necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life or prevent “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” There are certain medical conditions which can complicate pregnancy and potentially cause death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” Examples include, but are not limited to, pre-eclampsia, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. However, any condition relating to a pregnant woman’s mental health, regardless of the reason, does not fall within the purview of the act. In addition, the act does not include cases in which a woman’s own conduct results in substantial bodily harm or her death.

abortion banThe Impact of the Act on Pregnant Women in Tennessee

Among the potential obstacles for pregnant women in Tennessee are the narrow exceptions provided for an abortion to be permitted under the act. The prevention of death or substantial harm to a woman’s health are the only exceptions. Circumstances of rape or sexual abuse which can result in pregnancy are not exceptions under the act. This is particularly problematic if a woman does not know she got pregnant as a result of the abuse until later in her pregnancy. Additionally, what if the ultrasound routinely performed at 20 weeks reveals a serious abnormality with the fetus? Due to the narrow exceptions under the act, a pregnant woman receiving such news would automatically be prevented from making the right, albeit difficult, decisions for her and her family.

Further, if the woman’s physician determines an abortion is necessary to save her life or prevent substantial harm to her health, this conclusion is not enough. Under the act, a second physician, who is not professionally related to the first physician, must make the same determination and certify it in writing. This requirement can delay a woman’s ability to receive the necessary medical treatment for a potentially life threatening condition. As long as her condition is not an emergency (the need for an abortion is not immediate), she must get the second opinion. In addition, access to the second physician might be problematic. Per the act, the two physicians cannot be professionally connected, which means the pregnant woman, already in a fragile state, might need to travel in order to receive the second opinion. In the meantime, during such delays, family members—partners, spouses, young children—who depend on the pregnant woman will be negatively affected. Also, as mentioned above, the act does not allow conditions relating to mental health to come under the exception. However, such conditions can still have a detrimental impact on a pregnant woman and her loved ones.

Regardless of where one stands in this debate, the act will undoubtedly impact pregnant women in Tennessee who seek an abortion for various reasons. Proponents of the act question how a doctor or pregnant woman could proceed with a late term abortion, especially when it is proven the fetus could thrive as a human being outside the womb. On the other hand, the act’s opponents argue it infringes on a woman’s constitutional right to decide what is right for her and her body, as well as impedes her ability to do what is best for her family and work with her doctors regarding her health and well-being.