IMAGE: Protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
You’d be hard to find a voter in America who’s lived through a more turbulent primary season that this one: Donald Trump is at once a fascist insult comic pandering to the GOP’s far-far-right base and a defender of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. Bernie Sanders, throwing caution to the wind, wants Trump to win, just so he can beat him up in the general election. Hillary Clinton, having steamrolled Bernie in South Carolina, is winding up the knock-out punch that will end his campaign’s shot at the candidacy. Marco Rubio is holding on for dear life, and so is Ted Cruz — but barely.
And voters are panicking: What can we do to save our country from this clown car?
For tens of thousands of people, the answer is to switch parties.
As Super Tuesday voting rolls across these United States, thousands of voters will cast their ballot for the first time as recent Republican and Democratic converts. Some are following the appeal of a magnetic outsider. Others are seemingly in it to wreak havoc: by voting for Donald Trump, who will certainly damage his party’s chances in November.
The Boston Herald reported that 16,000 Massachusetts voters have renounced their Democratic affiliation in order to be counted as independents. Six thousand Republicans did the same. In Massachusetts, which is having its primary today, voters do not need to have picked a party to vote.
Not so with Oklahoma, another Super Tuesday state: Only Republicans can vote in Oklahoma’s Republican primary, while the Democratic portion of the contest is open to both Democrats and unaffiliated voters. Over 8,300 changed their party affiliation in the state — almost 4,000 of them became Republicans. Oklahoma saw its registrations surge by almost 30,000 between Jan. 15 and Feb. 5, the last day voters in the state could register before today’s primary.
Oklahoma is far from the only state that has seen the number of voter registrations skyrocket. Alabama, one of several southern states in the Super Tuesday crop, is anticipating a bumper turnout — Secretary of State John Merill told AL.com that his office is looking at “anywhere between 34 percent and 42 percent of the state’s more than 3 million registered voters.”
Some responsibility for these numbers lies with Donald Trump – he’s galvanized new voters and inspired thousands to switch parties. At least, that’s what Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin credits for today’s potentially record turnout. The state’s Democratic executive director Matt Fenlon, meanwhile, cites The Trump Effect for getting Republicans to the polls to vote for anyone in the party except the New York billionaire.
Florida, which holds its closed primary March 15, has already seen several thousand voters switch party affiliation. In Miami-Dade county, the state’s most populous, 9,268 people changed their parties.
In Ohio, one representative introduced a bill which would prevent voters from changing their affiliation within 30 days of a primary election, in addition to parties allowing new members to register within that time frame. It’s meant, in Rep. John Becker’s words to Cleveland.com, to thwart off “shenanigans” — efforts to derail a candidate or prop up another. He was referring specifically to a campaign by Rush Limbaugh in 2008 that was intended to eliminate Barack Obama from winning Ohio — which had a detrimental effect in that state, among others.
As the tallies trickle out tonight and in the coming weeks, we’ll see what really drove thousands of people to switch parties: Are they really there for Trump — or there to stop him?
Photo: Virginia voters line up early to cast their ballots in Super Tuesday elections at the Wilson School in Arlington, Virginia March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
By Natalie Schachar, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling last week that a Ten Commandments monument must be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol prompted outrage, drew praise and posed a question: Will controversy over religious displays ever end?
For many legal scholars, the outsize role that religion plays in America made the possibility unlikely.
“It’s a symbolic fight about how people understand their country,” said Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center in Washington.
“There are very many Americans who believe that unless we acknowledge our roots and Christian tradition as a country, we will fail,” he said, pointing to Oklahoma. “This is one of a number of efforts that have been made over the course of our history to reassert that understanding of America.”
The Oklahoma case was not the first involving the Ten Commandments.
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the topic as well and in 2005 issued two rulings with pointedly different conclusions.
The first decision, in McCreary County vs. ACLU, concerned displays of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky courthouses. Other documents were displayed as well, such as the “endowed by their creator” passage from the Declaration of Independence. The court barred the displays, saying they clearly promoted the commandments, rather than educated viewers about historical documents.
The second decision, in Van Orden vs. Perry, found that a 6-foot-tall monument at the Texas Capitol inscribed with the Ten Commandments was constitutional.
In that case, the court said the monument, erected decades earlier, was one of 21 historical markers and 17 monuments on the vast lawns of the Capitol and, in that context, more historical than religious.
“In certain contexts, a display of the tablets of the Ten Commandments can convey not simply a religious message but also a secular moral message,” wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the court’s swing vote in both 5-4 cases, in a concurring opinion.
It was that case that led Oklahoma lawmakers to believe they had leeway in building a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma City.
The Legislature passed a bill in 2009 calling for a 6-foot-tall monument identical in design to its Texas counterpart — one carved from granite, embellished with the Star of David and Greek letters. It would be located near monuments bearing Native American symbols.
Hiram Sasser, a defense attorney for the Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission, said he thought the monument was legally sound. The Legislature was aware of the narrow window opened by the Supreme Court with Van Orden allowing religious monuments in public spaces.
“Never in a million years was anyone ever anticipating they’d strike it down,” said Sasser, referring to the Oklahoma Supreme Court decision declaring the monument unconstitutional. “The only way I can put it is that I feel like I have a stack (of cases) about 10 feet high that says why this monument is OK.”
Although the Oklahoma case seemed similar to the Van Orden case, a different issue was at stake in Dr. Bruce Prescott, James Huff, Donald Chabot and Cheryl Franklin vs. Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission. The question was whether the Ten Commandments monument violated the Oklahoma Constitution — not the First Amendment.
Earlier rulings suggested the Oklahoma Supreme Court might call the monument constitutional. In 1959, the court allowed the use of public funds to build a chapel on government-owned property; the chapel was nondenominational, so it did not endorse a particular faith.
In 1972, the court ruled that a 50-foot-tall Latin cross installed on government property in Oklahoma City was constitutional because its placement would not benefit any particular institution.
The court did not mention either of those decisions when it ruled 7 to 2 on June 30 that placement of the Ten Commandments monument, just feet from the Capitol, violated a clause in the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting the use of public money for the indirect or direct benefit of any religion.
“As concerns the ‘historical purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths,” wrote the majority in their opinion.
It was a decision that highlighted an age-old controversy over religious displays, frequently played out in the courts, which have come to define American life.
Sarah Gordon, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania, said the political import of such displays stemmed from the Cold War, fueled in part by Hollywood.
In 1954, two words, “under God,” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and in 1956, “In God we trust” replaced “E pluribus unum” as the country’s motto. President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacted both changes.
After Charlton Heston starred in the Academy Award-winning epic “The Ten Commandments,” one of the most successful films of all time, the Fraternal Order of Eagles began to erect Ten Commandments monuments to deter juvenile delinquency, leaving a lasting mark around the country. According to Gordon, the political value of such monuments was clear.
“They really were very closely identified with defending conservative American values in front of radical communist threats,” she said.
The Ten Commandments monuments will remain a point of contention — intrusive religious displays to some, valuable reminders of history and culture to others.
“It’s a continuing clash of people who have diametrically opposed views,” said the Religious Freedom Center’s Haynes. “It’s not going away.”
Neither will the Oklahoma monument.
Last week, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, with the support of Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, filed a petition requesting a rehearing of the Ten Commandments case.
“Additionally,” Fallin said in a statement Tuesday, “our Legislature has signaled its support for pursuing changes to our state Constitution that will make it clear the Ten Commandments monument is legally permissible. If legislative efforts are successful, the people of Oklahoma will get to vote on the issue.”
In the meantime, the monument still stands as the legal wrangling continues.
(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo via Flickr
By Michael Doyle, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Monday upheld a drug combination used by Oklahoma to execute death row inmates.
In the most closely watched capital punishment case of the court’s term, and one that provoked strong feelings from both sides, a conservative 5-4 majority rejected a challenge to the sedative midazolam.
“The prisoners failed to identify a known and available alternative method of execution that entails a lesser risk of pain, a requirement of all Eighth Amendment method-of-execution claims,” Justice Samuel Alito Jr. wrote.
The case called Glossip v. Gross is the Supreme Court’s first substantive death penalty decision since a 2008 decision that upheld Kentucky’s use of a lethal three-drug cocktail for executions. It brought to the fore intense emotions in a highly unusual scene, as four different justices read parts of their opinions from the bench.
“Rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time, I would ask for full briefing on a more basic question: whether the death penalty violates the Constitution,” Justice Stephen Breyer declared in one of several dissenting opinions.
The decision came on the last day of the court’s term, when justices also upheld an Arizona redistricting commission and struck down EPA clean air rules.
The court’s new death penalty ruling comes about 14 months after Oklahoma’s execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett went horribly awry. Lockett writhed in apparent agony and remained alive for 43 minutes after being injected with an untested combination of chemicals.
The decision issued Monday, on the last day of the court’s 2014-15 term, did not judge the death penalty itself. In a 1976 decision, the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment did not violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Since then, 1,410 U.S. inmates have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Instead, the new decision centered on the specific drugs used in lethal injection.
The court previously concluded in the 2008 Kentucky case that only measures that present a “substantial” or “objectively intolerable” risk of serious additional harm violate the Eighth Amendment.
In the botched Locket execution, Oklahoma used the sedative midazolam, along with pancuronium bromide, to paralyze the inmate, and potassium chloride to stop the heart. Midazolam was a substitute. American manufacturers stopped making sodium thiopental, the sedative at issue in the 2008 Kentucky case, and European manufacturers will not export it.
Other states, including Florida and Arizona, also used midazolam in lethal-injection executions last year. Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi filed a brief supporting Oklahoma’s position, as did the attorneys general for other states including Idaho, Texas, and Georgia.
Still other states have adopted new execution protocols as an alternative to lethal injection, with the Utah Legislature in March approving use of firing squads as a backup method.
The ruling Monday came too late for one of the four inmates named in the original Oklahoma petition, Charles Warner, was executed last January. Warner was convicted of raping and killing an 11-month-old child.
The other three inmates, Richard E. Glossip, John M. Grant, and Benjamin R. Cole, are still awaiting execution. Glossip, whose name is first on the petition, was convicted in 1998 of first-degree murder. He maintains his innocence.
(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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