Reviewing President Trump’s Inaugural Year from a Legal Perspective

Millions of Trump voters cast their vote for the president out of hopes that he would appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. In that sense, conservative voters got what they bargained for in that President Trump nominated – and the Senate later confirmed – Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Trump’s Supreme Court Appointment

Surprisingly, this game-changer of a shakeup on the Supreme Court may have been overshadowed by Trump’s travel ban and the ongoing dispute of whether Trump’s divestments from his business violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause or not. In other words, lawyers and legal experts had their hands full throughout 2017 trying to parse exactly how the Trump administration’s actions fit into an historical and legal context.

The most remarkable aspect of Trump’s Supreme Court appointment may not have had anything to do with Trump per se. Before the 2017 appointment of Neil Gorsuch, there were two dozen individual instances in which a Supreme Court vacancy sprang up in the president’s final term of office. In 21 of those 24 instances (over 85%), the U.S. Senate rushed to confirm the nominee.

Obama experienced something rather unprecedented in the sense that his nomination of Merrick Garland, an erstwhile darling of the Republicans, was blocked around every turning. There were no hearings for Merrick Garland, let along a Senate vote for the nominee. Democrats, though, may have the last laugh in 2018 if they win back one or both houses in the mid-term elections.

Cooper Vs. Harris Case

The Supreme Court voted 5-3 to preclude the use of race in drawing election districts.

Trump’s Ongoing Interaction with the Supreme Court

President Trump has been one of the more vociferous critics of Supreme Court decisions in recent history. The Gloucester County School Board Vs. G.G. case that questioned whether civil rights laws ushered in under President Johnson applied to discrimination against transgender students seemed to inspire a wealth of opinions from President Trump.

Another Supreme Court case was heard vis-a-vis the National Labor Relations Act and its safeguarding of employee arbitration agreements. Trump took a position contrary to Obama’s and essentially sided with management over labor. The resulting division had the National Labor Relations Board on the side of labor and the solicitor general on the side of management. Similar splits are expected in 2018.

Supreme Court Mulls Over Same-Sex Cake Decision

Is it unconstitutional to refuse to make a wedding cake if you disapprove of the marriage? That’s the question the U.S. Supreme Court is debating right now. After hearing oral arguments on the matter, the Supreme Court justices are debating the issues and preparing a decision. Supreme Court watchers say that the case may come down to Justice Anthony Kennedy. They say that he’s a moderate justice whose vote could make the difference in the case.

It all started when a Colorado bakery declined to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding. They refused to make the cake on religious grounds, saying that they believe marriage should be between only a man and a woman. Lawyers for the bakery say that they should have the right to practice religion on their own terms. They also say that requiring them to make the cake violates their right to free speech which includes artistic expression.

Justices like Elena Kagan wondered out loud where to draw the line. Kagan pointed out that any business owner could violate the rights of others citing religious grounds. Kennedy worried that voting in favor of the bakery might lead to outright harassment of same-sex couples.

On the other hand, Kennedy also expressed agreement with the bakery owner’s right to practice his own religion. He seemed to agree with the bakery’s lawyer that individuals in a free society must tolerate beliefs that they don’t agree with. If this decision hinges on Kennedy, it’s ironic, because he’s the same judge who wrote the opinion that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. However, experts say that Justice Kennedy is known for taking free speech rights seriously.

Public accommodation laws require places like hotels and restaurants to provide services without discrimination. A hotel can’t turn away an interracial couple, for example. The bakery says this is different because their religion isn’t racism. They say that they don’t make cakes for Halloween, either.

When the bakery refused to make the cake, same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal in Colorado. The men said that their marriage was in another state. When the baker offered to make other goods for them, he said that the men “stormed out.” They made a complaint to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission which ruled against the baker. From there, the baker took the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. For their part, the couple says that the case is about more than just a wedding cake. They say that it’s about equality for everyone.



A US Court directs that the Travel Ban by Trump Should Not Affect Citizens of Friendly Countries

The United States courts of appeal has said that the ban on immigration by the Trump administration to citizens of six nations that have a Muslim majority should not apply to individuals with close ties to the United States. The 9th US circuit court of appeals based in San Francisco said that the Friday ruling would be put on hold. The court of appeals which has jurisdiction in some west coast states noted that the latest version of Trump administration travel ban that was ruled by the United States Supreme Court would be put on hold.

Since Trump took the reins of power in January, he has struggled with the enactment of a federal ban that qualifies for court muster. A previous decision from a subordinate court was narrowed by a bench made up of three judges from the 9th US circuit of the court of appeals to favor those people who had close ties with America. The court of appeals defined the condition for exclusion as any individual who had bona fide relations that were credible with the United States.

The court of appeals also stated that although the US president had a broad array of powers to restrict immigrants into the US, those powers also had limits. The three-judge bench said that the issuance of the immigration proclamation by President Trump exceeds the scope of his powers of delegation.

The Trump immigration ban has targeted citizens from Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Libya and Chad who want to travel to the United States. President Trump argued that the ban was applied to protect American citizens from the threat of terrorism. The state of Hawaii, however, challenged the travel ban in court and a federal judge in Honolulu ordered that the ban exceeded the powers of the US president under the US laws of immigration.

The travel ban by the Trump administration also includes citizens from Venezuela and North Korea. Lower courts have given an order that allowed the law to be implemented. The travel ban issued by the US president in January to ban citizens of Muslim majority nations from entering the US sparked protests and chaos in immigration offices and airports. After courts of the law blocked the first travel ban, President Trump issued a revised version of the ban in March. The March version would expire in September this year after numerous court battles and be replaced by the current version of the travel ban.

President Trump is set to Press the Brake on Immigration Laws

Since he took office in January, President Trump and his administration have pursued his agenda on immigration noticeably and loudly. This has led to undocumented or illegal immigrants being arrested by the federal authorities and even some being deported to their countries. One of the most critical immigration policies has been the ban on travel for citizens from most Muslim nations and pressing that a wall should be built on the international border between the United States and Mexico. However, Trump’s immigration policies have slowed many ways in which non-citizen could immigrate to the United States legally.

This has happened with very little resistance and very quietly. Officials from the state and immigration departments have been instructed to be more stringent on the scrutiny of eligible immigrants or for tourists who wish to visit the US. According to attorneys who represent a class of foreign businessmen, the strict immigration laws have become a hurdle on the free flow of both goods and human resources. Foreign nationals working in the United States who wish to have their working contracts extended are also having a rough time. The President-elect for the African Immigration Lawyers Association, Anastasia Tonello says that the immigration policies enacted by the current administration are a real wall built against foreigners.

The implementation of these changes in the immigration department show the commitment by the administration to fulfill the President’s agenda on immigration. During his campaigns tours and the acceptance speech after clinching the presidency, Trump promised that his government would put America first. He also pledged to curb on the number of foreign nationals entering the United States for commercial purposes and taking jobs that were meant for American citizens. The administration has implemented the Executive Orders that were signed by President Trump soon after taking office. The executive orders were intended to protect American workers from the competition by foreign nationals and reduce the risks posed by terrorism.

One of the Executive Orders, the Buy American, hire American, has the H-1B visa program singled out. Proponents of the order say that it is critical to promoting American products and innovation. However, H-1b has also disguised as a way that American workers are replaced by cheap labor from foreign workers. According to the limits that have been set out by Congress, 85,000 H-1Bs are available to American firms annually. When the economy is in a state of health, the demand is far higher than supply which prompts the US government to organize a lottery.

End Citizens United Denounces Republican Efforts to Gut The Johnson Amendment

UPDATED December 12th, 2017 – End Citizens United announces their “Big Money 20” for the 2018 elections. The political action committee is targeting these 20 republicans and will spend roughly $35 million dollars to help keep money out of politics.

Last week, the US House Appropriations Committee rejected a proposal to remove a controversial rider from a spending bill that restricts enforcement of the Johnson Amendment. According to End Citizens United, a political action committee that advocates for campaign finance reform, the decision gives a green light for special interest groups to, “manipulate churches and funnel secret political money through the pulpit.”

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the US tax code that forbids 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, which include most churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates. It was proposed in 1954 by Lyndon B. Johnson, who was a senator of Texas at the time.

The amendment has long been a sore spot for some conservatives, which is why President Donald Trump made repealing it a campaign promise. Repealing the Johnson Amendment would require an act of Congress, which is hard to come by these days, so opponents of the rule are looking for other ways to undermine its enforcement.

Rather than outright repeal, house republicans have included a rider in a spending bill that forbids the IRS from using funds to investigate churches for violations of the Johnson Amendment. Exceptions can be made by the IRS commissioner, who must report to Congress about all such investigations. Despite attempts from opponents to remove the language from the bill, the committee voted 28-24 to keep the controversial rider.

How is the Johnson Amendment Enforced?

Churches and other similar nonprofit organizations can engage in some political activities, such as voter registration drives, but the Johnson Amendment forbids endorsements of specific parties or candidates. The amendment was famously invoked in 1992 when a church had its tax-exempt status revoked for taking out a full-page ad in USA Today that implored Christians to vote against then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.

Today, however, the IRS rarely investigates churches for political activities, and some pastors don’t shy away from voicing their political opinions from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative advocacy group, sponsors a campaign called Pulpit Freedom Sunday that encourages pastors to openly flout the law in protest. Although the IRS has audited at least one of the thousands of participating churches, no penalties have been issued. Nonetheless, the new language would make it almost impossible for the IRS to penalize churches for funneling money from their congregations to political campaigns.

What do Americans Think About the Johnson Amendment?

Among American voters, there isn’t an overwhelming consensus on the issue of religion in politics. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that 66 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with the thought of churches endorsing candidates, but a vocal minority of conservative Christians believe that the Johnson Amendment restricts freedom of speech.

Some religious group are actually adamant about maintaining the Johnson Amendment. Dozens of nonprofit organizations including the Episcopal Church, the American Jewish Committee, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty co-signed a letter to the House Appropriations Committee voicing opposition to the measure.

“Weakening current law would allow politicians and others seeking political power to pressure churches for endorsements,” the letter states.

What do Experts say About the Johnson Amendment?

Charles Haynes, a religious freedom historian at Washington DC’s Newseum, told the Washington Post that the language, “puts a further chilling effect on any attempts by IRS staff to enforce the Johnson Amendment with respect to pulpit speech.” However, the problem doesn’t stop at speech.

“At its worst, the provision keeps IRS staff from doing its job to prevent charitable donations to flow to political campaigns,” Haynes says.

While the Johnson Amendment forbids any nonprofit group from endorsing candidates, the language in the spending bill specifically exempts religious organizations from such oversight. Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told the Washington Post that giving religious organizations preferential treatment violates the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Tiffany Muller, who is the President and Executive Director of End Citizens United, released a statement condemning the House Appropriation Committee for restricting enforcement of the Johnson Amendment.

“The Johnson Amendment has been critical to ensuring churches and charities can carry out their missions free from manipulation of Big Money special interests and partisan politics,” said Muller. “Today, extreme House Republicans approved a rider in a must-pass bill that leaves churches vulnerable to being used as tools of political mega-donors looking to push their agenda.”

About End Citizens United

End Citizens United was founded in 2015 to counter the effects of the landmark 2010 Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to make unlimited undisclosed donations to political candidates. It uses grassroots tactics to support candidates who are committed to reforming campaign finance law. By raising awareness of the issue of money in politics, End Citizens United advocates for legislation that will limit the flow of dark money to campaigns.

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Sujit Choudhry and Geography’s Threat to Democracy

Sujit Choudhry is the founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions and an internationally recognized authority on comparative constitutional law and politics. The focus of his research spans across a wide variety of comparative constitutional law and politics issues. In 2014, he and his colleague, Michael Pal from the University of Ottawa – Common Law Section; Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, published an article in the Canadian Political Science Review. The article, Still Not Equal? Visible Minority Vote Dilution in Canada, discusses voting power for visible and non-visible minorities for the 2004 federal electoral map as well as for provincial electoral districts in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. The major conclusion was that the concept of vote dilution is prominent in regions of visible minorities.

Sujit Choudhry’s Address at the Semi-Presidentialism Round-table in Ukraine

The democratic political power path is bifurcated. One side is demography, or satisfying interests and beliefs of the largest group of people and winning their votes. The other path is geography, referring to securing voters in the many regions that are scarcely populated. In other words, by focusing on the geography principle, this bifurcation enables the adoption of public policies that are not always appealing to the majority. At the moment, the majority of the democratic world is largely based on geographic rather than demographic politics.


The most famous example of this is the situation in the United States, where both the presidency as well as the Senate can be won via geography rather than demography. The effect of geography is especially evident in the fact that despite a strong majority of the American people having liberal, racially tolerant and international-minded views, they have been overpowered by a faction of the Republican Party that is associated with U.S. President Donald Trump.


Even back in 2010, at a time when the broad center-left voting coalition under the former U.S. president Barack Obama seemed to dominate U.S. politics, Joel Kotkin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute prognosticated that, “Demographics may seem a long-term boon for Democrats,” he wrote, “but geographic trends tilt in the opposite direction.” This became evident in the victory of President Trump who was favored by the increasingly non-diverse, older populations residing in the underpopulated center. Even though the vast majority voted against him, out of the 592 counties that supported him, 520 were populated by fewer than 50,000 individuals, and won almost every county populated by fewer than 10,000 individuals.


This problem spans beyond the American borders, too. Europe is affected by fringe parties of intolerance and in some cases a parliamentary majority via the geography approach. The extreme-right Alternative for Germany that had a strong showing in October’s national election was in large part due to focus on the sparse and depopulated regions of former communist East Germany. Poland is another example, whose Law and Justice Party governs after appealing more to rural areas by turning nationalist and xenophobic. France, too, played the geography card when its National Front made it to the first round of presidential elections.


Canada is also not immune to this threat to democracy when leaders with fringe ideas take power by appealing to underpopulated regions of the country. The Canadian democratic system is most vulnerable due to the great imbalance between rural and urban as well as suburban ridings, the latter two of which are more densely populated. While the 2011 Fair Representation Act added equality to Canada’s provinces by introducing 30 new ridings, rural overrepresentation remained unaddressed.


This is where the study by Choudhry and Pal is of such importance. According to their findings, introducing new ridings had two downsides. Not only did those rural ridings have more voting power, but Canadians from racial-minority backgrounds living in metropolitan areas were severely underrepresented. The researchers found that for every Canadian’s vote power of 1, those in ridings that are more than 99% white have a voting power of 1.37. Canadians who reside in ridings that are more than 30% non-white have a voting power of 0.88. This means that the electoral clout of voters residing in all-white ridings is 55% higher than that of voters in diverse ridings. The scholars refer to this concept as vote dilution that is present among the diverse ridings. It carries particular demographic, policy and constitutional considerations significance, and the scholars conclude their study by highlighting that a reform is critical.


Overall, it is the moderate parties that must work on winning back geography. The inherent struggle that America’s Democrats are facing is the discrepancy between geography voters in the northern states, who felt that their candidate while too liberal on social issues, and those who are in safe Democratic urban districts thought the opposite. As the term ‘too liberal’ has many meanings, the solution to this may be in delivering different election-year messages and not focusing on changing policies. However, the overall conclusion of the 2016 U.S. election is that the in-between places must not be ignored as there is a method to win for a party that is ready to bet on symbolic resentments and fears of residents in scarcely populated areas.


Sujit Choudhry is the founding director of the Center for Constitutional Transitions and I. Michael Heyman Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He works as constitutional advisor to emerging democracies across the world. He is currently also a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster and was a consultant to the World Bank Institute at the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.


Choudhry has also been a constitutional advisor for over two decades. He has expertise in facilitating public dialogue sessions with civil society groups and other stakeholders, leading stakeholder consultations, performing detailed advisory work with technical experts, training civil servants and bureaucrats, engaging party leaders and parliamentarians, and drafting technical reports and memoranda in the field. He is currently also a member of the United Nations Mediation Roster and consultant to the World Bank Institute at the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program.


His publication record includes over ninety articles, book chapters, working papers and reports. He is author of several books and a member of the Executive Committee of the International Society of Public Law, the International Advisory Council of the Institute for Integrated Transitions, the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law, the Editorial Board of the Constitutional Court Review, the Editorial Advisory Board for the Cambridge Studies in Constitutional Law, and is an Honorary Member of the Advisory Council of the Indian Constitutional Law Review. More information on Sujit Choudhry can be found on his personal website as well as on LinkedIn, Twitter (@sujit_choudhry), Instagram (@sujitchoudhry) and on Facebook.

Trump’s Travel Ban Is Upheld By the Supreme Court

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court offered its consent to a travel ban
proposed by President Donald Trump. The travel ban is aimed at people from six
Muslim-majority nations. Despite legal challenges in lower courts, the ban is
expected to go into full effect.

The Supreme Court was divided on the matter with two liberal justices
dissenting. The court allowed the government’s request to lift injunctions
imposed by the lower courts that had blocked the travel ban. This is one of the
contentious policies that Trump first sought when he took office in January.

A Victory For The Trump Administration

Attorney General Jeff Sessions lauded the action by the Supreme Court and
declared a significant victory for the American people. The ban had been
challenged in several lawsuits by the American Civil Liberties Union and the state
of Hawaii. The argument in these lawsuits was that the ban was an act of
discrimination against Muslims which amounts to a violation of immigration

When Trump was vying for office, he promised to shutdown Muslims entering
the U.S.  According to ACLU lawyer, Omar Jadwat, Trump has repeatedly shown his anti-Muslim prejudice. His latest anti-Muslim sentiments were expressed in a post on Twitter where he shared anti-Muslim videos posted by a British party leader.

The lower courts had recently limited the extent of the ban to people who
had no family connections in the U.S. or former relationships with U.S. based
entities like resettlement agencies and universities.

Trump’s ban is not restricted to Muslims but further applies to North
Koreans and government agents from Venezuela. The high court declared in a one-page order that the rulings by the lower courts that partially blocked the latest travel ban would be put on hold under the federal appeals courts in Richmond, Virginia, and San Francisco review the cases.

No Hope For A Reversal Of the Ruling

Monday’s action was a strong sign that the court was going to uphold the ban
even after it returns to the appeals courts. However, there are exceptions to
this ban. Some people from each of the targeted nations may still be allowed to
apply for a visa for business, tourism, or education purposes.

Trump’s first travel ban targeted Muslim-majority countries in January. In
March, Trump issued a revised the initial ban after the federal courts blocked
the first one. In September, the second travel ban expired and was later
replaced by the current version.

North Carolina New Law Limits Judges in Waiving Fines and Fees

A new law in North Carolina, believed to be the first of its kind nationwide, took effect on Friday, Dec. 1, curbing the state’s judges’ ability to waive fees and fines for poor people.

The General Assembly, controlled by a Republican majority, passed the law to circumvent a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1983 according to which judges are allowed to waive costs for the poor and cannot jail individuals for the sole reason they are too poor to be able to afford fines and fees.

The law goes against a general nationwide tendency for reform that looks to alleviate the burden on poor people, enabling them to pay in small installments and enabling judges to reduce or waive fees altogether.

According to the new law, judges are allowed to waive fees and fines but are required to give a 15 days’ notice to all affected agencies before the waiver. This requirement can prove a considerable obstacle, as the state imposes 52 different fees for a vast array of infractions including a $50 fee for failing to pay a fee. Court costs in the state can easily surpass $1,000. These fees are routed to four different state agencies and 611 counties and municipalities, making the notice requirement a potentially expensive exercise that can cost the state’s counties thousands of dollars in extra postage every week and further burden their often-understaffed offices.

Some Democrat state representatives are making an effort to mitigate the new law’s impact by alerting all agencies to it and to their open option to send counsel to any court session and be heard on any fee waiver. Nevertheless, as courts rely on fees for half of their budget, the new law is in the interest of those who hold budget considerations above other concerns.

Will Supreme Court Side Against First Amendment Or Against Anti-Discrimination Laws

The case in question became an internet sensation, even before it ever reached the Supreme Court’s docket. It involves Colorado baker Jack Phillips and his shop, Masterpiece Cakeshop, over the issue of whether or not the First Amendment guarantees him the right to refuse to bake a cake for the gay wedding of Charlie Craig and David Mullins. The couple sued Phillips for violating a state law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. While Mullins and Craig won the initial case, Phillips first pursued the matter in state appeals courts and is now due to have his side heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court Must Draw a Line Between Discrimination and the First Amendment
There’s a fine line between discrimination and the freedom of speech and the freedom of beliefs. That’s a line the Supreme Court has endeavored to establish many times before, as well. For as long as we have had the Bill of Rights, people and businesses have tried to use the First Amendment to justify discrimination. That’s a ploy that rarely works, especially in cases that reach the United States Supreme Court.
In 1973, the court determined that private discrimination may be viewed as one type of freedom of expression, but that doesn’t mean it is, in fact, protected by the terms of the constitution. Yet, 1995 brought about a decision that seemed to reverse that earlier opinion. In denying a gay rights march to participate in a St. Patrick’s Day parade, the court held that Massachusetts could not compel private citizens to include the gay pride march in its parade. As the parade is a form of expression in itself, the Supreme Court established that the themes of the parade were up to those organizing the event.
Neither Decision Will Undermine Anti-Discrimination Laws
While it’s anyone’s guess how the Supreme Court will decide, even Jack Phillips’ court documents acknowledge that the case isn’t a fight against anti-discrimination laws. In this instance, Phillips is simply trying to defend his own right to use his talents in a way that coincides with his personal belief system. That means not being forced to create a wedding cake for a gay marriage, while he’s personally opposed to same-sex marriages.
The Supreme Court may go along with that exception. It would be a simpler matter to make an exception based on one unique case versus having to redefine anti-discrimination laws on a broader term. If the court does rule in favor of Jack Phillips, the decision will almost certainly specify that the terms are specific to the situation. The court would only be granting Phillips to use his talents and skills in a way that coincides with his personal expressions. Otherwise, businesses might attempt to use this one limited exception as a way to discriminate against others, based on sexual orientation.


The 1954 Law to be Rolled Back

A group of religious rights has for many years opposed the 1954 law that prohibits churches and nonprofit organizations from engaging in any political activities. The once impossible demands are almost becoming a reality for the group after the Republican representatives began to prepare themselves to rewrite the path of the United States tax code in line with the $1.5 trillion tax package that will move to the Congress. Various amendments were made and passed through the House, among them the provision to scrap off the 1954 ban. Many religious rights support this move, while many of the religious and nonprofit leaders oppose it citing that it will clear the boundary that has existed between politics and charity. The nonpartisan Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation believes that the proposed change will turn the religious houses into fully funded political forces.

About $1.7 billion that comes from the traditional political committee will end up being diverted to the churches. It will also give churches and nonprofit organizations the legal right to practice partisan politics. The Senate vote is scheduled for early midweek. There is a definite variation of the tax rewrite in the Senate from that of the House. For starters, the ban has been left out. The Senate bill has not received sufficient support from the Republicans so that it can pass along party lines. Some Republican senators are concerned about the cost of the law as well as its approach. They are categorically worried about how small enterprises are treated and the scrapping off of the Affordable Care Act requirement that Americans rely on.

In the event that the bill passes in the Senate, the lawmakers will be required to resolve the variation between the House bill and that of the Senate. They will be required to agree on the mode of tax cuts for individuals, whether it will be permanent like it is done in the House or temporally like it is done in the Senate. Those who critics of the repeal of the 1954 Act popularized as the Johnson Amendment say that the change will create untraceable political spending and the creation of churches aimed at taking advantage of the political spending. Religious leaders and denominations say that that the rollback of the Johnson Amendment will be a threat to achieving the mission of their organizations. They also claim that the rollback will bring division in the churches along political affiliation.

The Supreme Court Set to Rule on a Gun Ownership Case

Its five years now since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened. While the shooting resulted in the death of 20 children, one name stood out. Benjamin was a six-year-old kid who was killed in the process. His parents have been relentless in fightng for justice for their son. His father who has been identified as David Wheeler has on a number of occasions pleaded with the state legislatures. He has testified and has also asked members of the Congress to look into the gun laws. At the same time, he has supported his wife as she made a speech during addresses that had been organized by former President Barrack Obama. They all want the lawmakers to rethink about gun ownership laws.

However, the family will have their day at the United States Supreme Court this week as they listen to their lawyers argue about their case. The lawyers want to convince the United States Supreme Court that the companies that produced the military-style rifle that was used to kill the 26 victims including 20 children are responsible for the deaths. The families and the lawyers are employing a novel strategy with the aim of piercing the shield that protects these companies from litigation. The law was passed by the federal government and has prevented thousands of cases for companies whose weapons have been used to commit crimes.

There are fears that should the case be allowed to go through by the Supreme Court, it will open a jury trial. This will result in resurfacing of cases where relatives of victims and survivors will come out asking for accountability. Mr. Wheeler said in a recent interview that it doesn’t make any sense that these companies are free from liability. He further complained that the playing field was not level. He further said that he felt that the practice was not right. This has degenerated to a high profile case that has gained traction from both sides of the gun debate. For the past few days, the United States Supreme Court has listened to amicus briefs from doctors who treated victims and gun control advocates. One gun-rights group that had a day at the Supreme Court is the National Rifle Association. The group argued that should the case go forward, it would threaten the “eviscerate” of companies that make guns. Some experts argue that the case will be dismissed because federal protections were designed for such cases.

Church Money in Politics? Not On End Citizen United’s Watch

If there’s one thing that most people understand about the United States, it’s that it was founded on the principle of the separation of church and state. It has been this way since the dawn of this country, but now it’s at serious risk of being stripped away. At this very moment, conservative members of Congress are working feverishly to slip through a rider that will effectively strip the Johnson Amendment of its powers. This law is the one that specifically forbids tax-exempt non-profit organizations, including churches, from actively campaigning for political candidates. End Citizens United recently issued a press release urging Congress not to allow this to happen.

Few people were even aware of the Johnson Amendment until the 2016 presidential campaign season got into full swing. Republican candidate Donald Trump made repealing the amendment one of his top campaign promises. This promise went over many people’s heads, as they were unaware of the significance. However, those for whom Trump truly works–the wealthiest people in the country–were well aware, and it was music to their ears. Should the Johnson Amendment be repealed, there will be no stopping people from donating indiscriminately to religious organizations–and those religious organizations can then turn around and funnel the money wherever they’d like it to go.

Why is End Citizens United front and center in this battle? The grassroots organization, which was founded to fight back against the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010, sees this move as an attempt to further solidify the power of corporations and the extremely wealthy. In its press release, Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, stated, “The House Republican’s tax plan includes the terrible decision to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which can turn churches into tools for secret campaign spending.”

To understand why the repeal of the Johnson Amendment would be a true disaster for democracy in America, it helps to understand how much money is at stake. In the year 2015 alone, Americans donated more than $119 billion to religious organizations. To put that into perspective, the total cost of the 2016 election–the most expensive in history–was around $6.5 billion. The implication here is that should the amendment be gutted, a significant chunk of that $119 billion could find its way into the campaign coffers of conservative candidates–candidates who have been bought and paid for by the powers that be.

Although the Johnson Amendment has been in conservatives’ crosshairs for some time, it caused no controversy whatsoever when it was enacted in the mid-1950s. The amendment was proposed by then U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas. He was inspired to champion the law after being attacked and accused of being a communist by non-profit religious groups. Noting that these 501(c)(3) organizations, as they are known, enjoy tax-free status, Johnson believed that they had an unfair advantage. Given that the country was founded on the concept of the separation of church and state, it seemed logical to enact this kind of law.

The Johnson Amendment has historically been more of a preventative measure than a punitive one. The mere existence of the law–and the threat of being stripped of tax-exempt status by the IRS–ensured that most toed the line. Still, some have deliberately flouted the law through the years, stating that it restricted pastors’ and others’ right to free speech. In fact, a movement called Pulpit Freedom Sounding, which is organized by the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, encourages churches and other groups to actively thumb their nose at the law. Even so, very few organizations have actually faced penalties because of it.

How exactly are Republicans working to do away with the Johnson Amendment? Not surprisingly, they are being pretty sneaky about it. Rather than blatantly attempt to repeal the law, they have attached it to various other pieces of legislation in the hopes of getting it passed without too much oversight. Language stripping the law of much of its power was included in the House Financial Services appropriations bill earlier this fall. More recently, a rider was added to the huge tax bill. It forbids the IRS from using funds to investigate violations of the Johnson Amendment, which means that the law is basically useless.

If the general public really understood what was at stake with the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, there would surely be a lot more fuss being made. However, public sentiment regarding the separation of church and state is surprisingly muddled. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2016, 66 percent of Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of religion in politics. That’s a comfortable majority, of course, but it suggests that a large percentage of people are fine with it–and that is a problem.

Despite the perception that all religious organizations are welcoming the repeal of the Johnson Amendment, the reality is that plenty of them oppose this move too. In fact, more than 100 such organizations have joined End Citizens United in its efforts to prevent the repeal of this incredibly important law. The repeal of this 63-year-old law would undoubtedly open the floodgates, allowing organizations to funnel tax-free contributions to political campaigns. As if that’s not alarming enough, those who made donations in this way would conceivably enjoy tax breaks, as such donations are typically deductible. In this way, the very wealthy will be double-dipping and enjoying yet a22851977_1131203693680779_2957189258061179696_nother unfair advantage over the public at large.

As dire as things seem at this time, groups like End Citizens United are closely monitoring the situation and mobilizing to fight back. Ideally, of course, the Republicans will fail in their objective. Should they prevail, ECU and other groups will have to work even harder to get their candidates elected. This will mean a lot more work, of course, since it will mean undoing a lot of damage. Although President Trump signed an executive order back in May, the battle is far from over. By supporting End Citizens United, citizens can help to take their country back.


The United States Supreme Court Allows the Execution of a Man who can’t remember his Crime

The United States Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the execution of an Alabama man who cannot remember his crime should go ahead. He has been on death row since 1985 for first-degree murder. The Supreme Court issued a statement later saying that the decision was unanimous. This was an indication that there were no noted dissents. However, the three judges of the Supreme Court who are known for their liberal opinions released a statement saying that the case brought before the court a good legal question. They further said that it was their opinion that the matter should be brought to the court at a later date. The inmate, in this case, has been identified as Vernon Madison. The Times learned that he has been on death row since he was convicted for killing Julius Schulte. The Supreme Court case was based on a request that Mr. Madison made in 2016 on a trial court in Alabama. He asked the court to suspend the decision to execute him because he could not remember why he was being punished. This is an opinion that Justice Stephen G. Breyer agreed on. He later described the condition of the inmate. He described Mr. Madison as legally blind.

At the same time, Justice Stephen G.Breyer said that the inmate could neither walk independently nor talk like a normal person as his speech was slurred. The inmate was inconsistent. The Justice said that the current condition of Mr. Madison means that he didn’t have a memory of the capital offense. Two court-appointed psychologists agreed that the inmate understood that he knew about what he had been accused off. At the same time, he knew of the measures that the state planned on using to punish him. One psychologist had been appointed by the court while the other was appointed by Mr. Madison. Before the case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, a state trial judge ruled that the execution should take place. When the case proceeded to a federal court, the judges agreed with the state judges. However, the United States Court of Appeals would not agree with the previous judges. The court determined that executing a person who would not remember his crime would be violating the United States Constitution. At the same time, the court argued that the United States Supreme Court had ruled that a person who has no rational understanding should not be executed.

Dealing with Hate Crimes in America

A murder trial from the state of Iowa that had attracted the attention of Attorney General Jess Sessions has concluded with a guilty verdict. The trial involved the murder of a popular teenager from the state. The defendant had been accused of first-degree murder. Jorge Sanders-Galvez was found guilty of killing Kedarie Johnson. This is a teenager who was described by his mother as gender fluid as he even dressed in women’s clothing. The trial began two weeks ago, and it helped revive the debate of what should be considered as a hate crime. According to the mother of the deceased, he believed that his son’s case was as a result of a hate crime. Public prosecutors in Keokuk, Iowa said that the defendants, alongside another man, pursued the deceased as they believed that he was a girl. The teenager was 16 years at that time. When they discovered that he was a boy during the sex act, the two men were enraged. However, the two cases have been based on murder and not hate crime. The trial for the second man is yet to begin. It’s worth to note that the statute of hate crimes in Iowa have no provision for gender identity. Efforts to add this provision was thwarted last year by the state’s legislature.

The Iowa hate crime, however, saw the intervention of the Justice Department under the request of the attorney general. Seen as a highly unusual step, the justice department sent an experienced hate crimes prosecutor in the state. He was supposed to work with the state’s prosecutors to show that the death was caused by hate crime. The decision was quite stunning for people who advocate for transgender people and gay. The attorney general has been known as a conservative who has distanced himself from transgender people. He even advocated doing away with policies that encourage the issue in schools such as bathrooms. As for Sander-Galvez, he will possibly receive a life sentence, and the Justice Department will most likely not file hate crime charges after the verdict. Earlier on, the Justice Department decided to file hate crime charges against Dylann S. Roof, the man who killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The federal government wants to send a message that it will not tolerate these crimes. The body of Mr. Kederie was discovered on 2nd March 2016. He was a liked kid in school, and people respected his decision.



Catalonia is one of the self-governing regions in the Kingdom of Spain. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 permitted these regions to govern themselves on condition that they would submit to the overall supremacy of the Monarch and the Central Government. Thriving from this semi-independence, Catalonia experienced a rapid socio-economic boom. Catalonian residents were even allowed to use their native language as the official language- a privilege that had been revoked during the Francoist era. The region gradually established itself as a separate political, economic, and cultural hub. The growing diversity from the rest of the Spanish communities fuelled the notion of Catalan independence over the years.
However, it wasn’t until the dawn of the 21st Century that the first signs of Catalonian agitation for independence were seen. In 2006, the autonomous region held a referendum which approved the passing of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. The Statute had been passed by Catalan legislators, and it enshrined articles that granted the region’s independence from Spain. In addition, the Statute’s preamble referred to Catalonia as a ‘nation.’ The Statute was immediately opposed and declared defiant to the Spanish Constitution by one of Spain’s leading political parties- the Popular Party. The pressure was mounted onto the Constitutional Court of Spain by various Spanish institutions, and they were requested to intervene. After four years of deliberation, the Court outlawed over a dozen articles in the Statute and cited their unconstitutionality. Among the eradicated articles was a provision that sought to elevate the status of Catalan language at the expense of Spanish language in the locality.
The court ruling fuelled the region’s demand for independence even further; much to the chagrin of the Spanish Government. In 2014, Catalonia held a referendum with the objective of discerning how many voters in the region favored secession from Spain. Unsurprisingly, the notion of secession received overwhelming support from the voters. Despite being outlawed by Spain, Catalan legislators scheduled an independence referendum in October 2017. On October 1, 2017, more than 90% of the votes cast supported the notion of secession. The Spanish government deployed police officers to the region tasked to impede the voting process. The Catalans have since been involved in a series of tussles with the Spanish government. The latter are keen to enforce Article 155 of the Constitution, which provides for direct governance of Catalonia by Spain.