Connect with us

National

Sen. Kamala Harris calls out judicial nominees for anti-LGBT bias

WAKE UP CALL! McConnell intends to pack the courts

Published

on

Sen. Kamala Harris (Photo courtesy Harris’ office)

Last November, a year and change after Donald Trump’s surprise election, respected New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse wrote a column about the “conservative plan to weaponize the federal courts.”

While progressives generally expected Trump to payback his conservative supporters with at least one Supreme Court justice, a 37-page plan written by Northwestern University law professor Steven G. Calabresi, founder and board chair of the conservative Federalist Society, declared their intention: “undoing the judicial legacy of President Barack Obama.”

“There is something bracing about the naked activism of a leader of a movement that has spent the past generation railing against judicial activism,” Greenhouse wrote of Calabresi’s plan to pack the courts. “There has never been anything like the weaponizing of the federal judiciary that is currently taking place. Seventeen of President Trump’s 18 nominees to the federal appeals courts are connected to the Federalist Society. Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, joked at the Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington last week that it was ‘completely false’ that the Trump administration was outsourcing to the group the task of finding judicial nominees. ‘I’ve been a member of the Federalist Society since law school,’ Mr. McGahn said. ‘Still am, so frankly it seems like it’s been in-sourced.’”

That was in Nov. 2017. Last Tuesday, as eight states faced key primary votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he was keeping the Senate in session through much of August to deal with legislation—and a backlog of judicial nominations. In other words, while America is distracted with whatever Trump tweets next and politicos worry about the midterms, McConnell is going to implement Calabresi’s plan, undo Obama’s legal legacy—and put lower court judges in place who comport to the right wing conservative ideology.

And while few are paying attention—California Sen. Kamala Harris is. On Thursday, June 7, at a Senate Judiciary Committee business executive meeting, Harris spoke up about how Trump’s judicial nominees have records of bias toward the LGBT community.

“This is LGBTQ Pride Month—the month where we recognize and lift up many contributions of LGBTQ Americans,” Harris said. “It also serves as a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals, who have been marginalized and have faced discrimination for far too long simply because of who they are and who they love. But despite the tremendous progress this country has made in recognizing equal rights for all Americans—including LGBTQ Americans—this Committee has approved many nominees who have fought against that progress at every step.

“For instance, we have had a nominee who argued that a judge’s impartiality should be questioned because the judge is in a committed, same-sex relationship,” Harris continued. “We have had another nominee who has repeatedly asserted that full marriage equality ‘imperils civic peace’…These are just a few of the nominees who have openly expressed hostility to the LGBTQ community and who have fought against full equality for LGBTQ Americans. And these are the same nominees who will likely preside over cases involving the rights of those Americans.”

Harris previously spoke out against Howard Nielson, Jr.’s nomination to be District Judge for the District of Utah, for his role in representing proponents of Prop 8, a ballot measure that stripped away marriage equality in California—a fight with which Harris was intimately familiar as State Attorney General.

Harris’ comments should serve as a wakeup call to LGBT organizations and activists who believe the courts will be defenders of LGBT civil rights as the Trump administration continues to roll back LGBT progress.

Full transcript of Harris’ statement:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I’d like to associate myself with my colleague’s remarks. It is truly deeply troubling that we’re moving forward with a nominee who has neither his home state senators’ blue slips and neither of them, and who has misled the commission that was vetting him.

In addition, I think it’s important to recognize that this is LGBTQ Pride Month—the month where we recognize and lift up many contributions of LGBTQ Americans.

It also serves, this month, as a reminder that we must continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ individuals who have been marginalized and have faced discrimination for far too long simply because of who they are and who they love.

But despite the tremendous progress this country has made in recognizing equal rights for all Americans – including LGBTQ Americans – this Committee has approved many nominees who have fought against that progress at every step.

Everyone who comes before this Committee says that they will set aside their personal views and provide a fair hearing to those who stand before them.

But some of these nominees have extreme views and it is difficult to see how any LGBTQ American could reasonably believe that these nominees would give them a fair hearing.

For instance, we have had a nominee who argued that a judge’s impartiality should be questioned because the judge is in a committed, same-sex relationship.

We have had another nominee who has repeatedly asserted that full marriage equality “imperils civic peace.” That nominee is now a confirmed judge with a lifetime appointment.

We have had yet another nominee who expressed support for the county clerk in Kentucky who defied a federal court order by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples after the Obergefell decision.

These are just a few of the nominees who have openly expressed hostility to the LGBTQ community and who have fought against full equality for LGBTQ Americans. And these are the same nominees who will likely preside over cases involving the rights of those Americans.

And it is a sad truth that showing hostility toward the LGBTQ community is not something that has disqualified individuals from becoming a nominee of this administration.

As this Committee knows, these lifetime appointees will make important decisions about the lives and opportunities of all Americans, including LGBTQ Americans for generations to come.

As evidenced by the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that was decided just this week.

And as this Committee knows in that case the Court ruled against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission because the Commission did not act as a neutral decision-maker for the plaintiff. At the same time, the decision reaffirmed that LGBTQ Americans are equal and should not be subject “to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

What is clear from that decision is that the LGBTQ community will have to continue to fight for equality. And that is a fight that we—as Americans who care about civil rights and equal dignity—must all join.

And that includes ensuring that our federal judiciary is not stacked with individuals who have shown hostility to any group of Americans, especially those who have dedicated their careers to undermining the equality of LGBTQ Americans.

This flood of extreme nominees is being rushed through and does not reflect the best principles of our system of justice. And this has to stop. I believe we can do better. Thank you.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

National

Supreme Court to consider challenge to Tenn. law challenging gender-affirming case for minors

Volunteer State lawmakers approved ban in 2023

Published

on

U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a challenge to a Tennessee law that bans health care providers from offering gender-affirming care to transgender minors.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the law in 2023.

A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary injunction against portions of the statute before it was to have taken effect on July 1, 2023. The 6th U.S. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September rejected a request to block the law the Justice Department has also challenged.

“The future of countless transgender youth in this and future generations rests on this court adhering to the facts, the Constitution, and its own modern precedent,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, on Monday in a press release. “These bans represent a dangerous and discriminatory affront to the well-being of transgender youth across the country and their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. They are the result of an openly political effort to wage war on a marginalized group and our most fundamental freedoms.” 

“We want transgender people and their families across the country to know we will spare nothing in our defense of you, your loved ones, and your right to decide whether to get this medical care,” added Strangio.

The Associated Press reported Tennessee is among the more than two dozen states that have enacted laws that either restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans minors.

The ACLU notes the Supreme Court “is not expected to hear arguments” in the case until the fall.

Continue Reading

The White House

Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

Published

on

First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

Continue Reading

Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Markey bill would offer additional support to LGBTQ elders

Measure would create Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within HHS

Published

on

U.S. Capitol Dome
U.S. Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will introduce a bill on Friday to support LGBTQ elders and older adults living with HIV by establishing an Office of LGBTQI Inclusion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among other responsibilities, the office would advocate, coordinate activities, issue policy recommendations, and oversee the collection of data from these communities.

A major piece of the work to improve health equity at HHS under the leadership of Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been data collection initiatives for LGBTQ and other populations that can encounter barriers accessing care.

The Elder Pride Act will also “establish a rural grants program to serve the unique needs of rural LGBTQI+ older adults, including through education and training, community outreach and creation of community spaces, and improved cultural competency,” according to a press release announcing the legislation, which the senator’s office previewed exclusively with the Washington Blade.

“After years of exclusion and discrimination from health care settings, workplaces, and their local communities, LGBTQ+ older Americans deserve the protections their neighbors are afforded,” Markey said.

“Queer and trans elders should be able to age with dignity, grace, and surrounded by community,” he added. “The Elder Pride Act will ensure that all older adults are able to have access to the care and services they need.”  

Cosponsoring senators include Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D- Calif.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). The legislation’s provisions were included in a pair of bills introduced earlier this year by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who chairs the Congressional Equality Caucus’s Aging Issues Task Force.

The press release from Markey’s office also highlights several of the challenges faced by LGBTQ older adults vis-a-vis their cisgender and heterosexual peers: Fewer sources of support. higher poverty rates, poorer healthcare, poorer health access, and poorer health outcomes.

At the city and county level, older adults are served by local area agencies on aging (AAAs), which receive services and activities from HHS. Fewer than half of these organizations report that they will be able to provide LGBTQ-specific activities by the time the population of LGBTQ elders reaches 7 million, which is expected by 2030.

Continue Reading

Rhode Island

Survey ranks Rhode Island first in nation on LGBTQ+ safety

This year a number of state lawmakers and officials could be spotted marching in the parade on Saturday, June 15

Published

on

Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, festively attired in a rainbow jacket, marches in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Dorrance Street Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

By Alexander Castro & Christopher Shea | PROVIDENCE, R.I. – In Rhode Island, the pinnacle of LGBTQ+ Pride Month is one colorful Saturday halfway through June, when RI PrideFest and its accompanying parade fill downtown Providence from daylight until dark.

This year a number of state lawmakers and officials could be spotted marching in the parade on Saturday, June 15. The show of support from LGBTQ+ lawmakers and allies came after a productive season at the State House for legislation meant to improve both directly and indirectly the lives of queer Rhode Islanders. 

Among the bills passed by both House and Senate by end of session last week included a health care provider shield law, expanded coverage for PrEP drugs and legislation to make name changes easier in probate court. 

Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee smiles as he marches in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Dorrance Street Saturday, June 15, 2024.
(Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
A spectator waves a pride flag in front of the Reserve banquet hall on Dorrance Street in Providence. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
Providence Mayor Brett Smiley is shown on Dorrance Street after handing out pride flags during the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Saturday, June 15, 2024. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
Sen. Tiara Mack, a Providence Democrat, in pink, marches in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Dorrance Street Saturday, June 15, 2024.
(Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
Left to right, Sen. Victoia Gu, a Westerly Democrat, the back of U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse march in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Dorrance Street Saturday, June 15, 2024.
(Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha marches in the Rhode Island Pride Illuminated Night Parade on Dorrance Street Saturday, June 15, 2024.
(Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

Last Wednesday, June 12, Gov. Dan McKee also retweeted some positive news: Rhode Island scored first place in a national ranking of safe places for LGBTQ+ people. 

This is the third year the report cards have been released by SafeHome.org, a website that analyzes security and safety trends nationwide. State laws protecting LGBTQ+ rights are used to calculate the composite scores, which also factored in hate crime data for the first time this year.

SafeHome.org cited Rhode Island’s existing LGBTQ+ legislation, including the strength of its anti-bullying laws, lack of discrimination toward LGBTQ+ foster parents, state Medicaid inclusion of transgender people, and required hate crime reporting from law enforcement agencies. Hate crime rates in the state are low, and Rhode Island is one of only six states where every law enforcement agency needs to report hate crimes, according to SafeHome.org. 

Massachusetts — which often outpaces or matches its neighbors in quality-of-life rankings — was the lowest-ranking New England state in the SafeHome.org survey, coming in at 28th place.

******************************************************************************************

Alexander Castro

Alexander Castro covers education and health for Rhode Island Current. He has worked extensively in the visual arts as a critic, curator and adjunct professor.

******************************************************************************************

Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the Rhode Island Current and is republished with permission.

The Rhode Island Current is an independent, nonprofit news outlet focused on state government and the impact of public policy decisions in the Ocean State. Readers can expect relentless reporting with the context needed to understand key issues affecting the lives of Rhode Islanders.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Attorneys in Alabama trans medical case turn over document

A U.S. District Judge ordered the lawyers to turn over the Q&A document, which was used to prepare for questions from a three-judge panel

Published

on

A sign outside the Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

By Jemma Stephenson | MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Attorneys in an ongoing lawsuit against the state over Alabama’s gender affirming care for minors ban turned over a document Tuesday to a federal judge in an investigation of allegations of judge shopping. 

U.S. District Court Judge Liles C. Burke ordered the lawyers to turn over the Q&A document, which the attorneys said was used to prepare the lawyers for questions from a three-judge panel investigating allegations that the attorneys manipulated the random assignment of cases to seek a judge favorable to their case.

The attorneys have lodged objections to the production of the document, arguing that it is covered by attorney-client privilege. Burke wants the document for an in camera review. 

“Respondents submit the Q&A Document to confirm that their attorney-client privileged communications with their counsel were proper, to resolve this collateral issue as promptly as possible, and to dispense with the reputationally harmful allegations that they sought legal advice in furtherance of a crime or fraud,” the attorneys for the respondents wrote.

The plaintiffs sued Alabama in 2022 over a law making it a felony to prescribe hormones and puberty blockers in gender-affirming care. Burke, who heard the case, initially ruled for the plaintiffs and blocked the state law. But a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit overturned his ruling last year. The plaintiffs are seeking a full review of the decision by the circuit.

Multiple challenges to the law were filed after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law in 2022. After multiple transfers of the cases, the attorneys withdrew the case and later refiled it. Burke said the moves gave the appearance of judge shopping, which the investigative panel said had occurred in a report in October.

In a separate Tuesday filing, the attorneys also objected to Burke’s order to turn over the document, objecting to the judge’s portraying of the panel’s findings.

“Even if the one or two narrow  examples cited by the panel were really ‘inconsistencies and apparent misrepresentations’  (they are not), they do not  support  or  justify this Court’s  all-encompassing claim that the Panel ‘unanimously discredited’ the Walker Respondents’ testimony or otherwise ‘reject[ed] their testimony as unworthy of belief,’” they wrote.

The attorneys also pushed back against a Burke claim that an attorney had committed perjury before the panel. In an October report from the panel the judges wrote that one attorney had “deliberately misled” the panel about a phone call to a judge’s chamber, which Burke connected to perjury.

“There is no basis to conclude that no reasonable person could believe in good faith that he potentially perjured himself,” Burke wrote. “Likewise, there is no basis to conclude that an in camera review of the Q&A document would surely fail to turn up evidence that he intentionally lied to the court.”

 The attorneys wrote that the claim of “perjury” is not supported by facts and referenced an earlier order. They also wrote that the panel did not wholly discredit their testimony and wrote that claims of a lack of candor were limited to one footnote.

“To be clear, however, Walker counsel’s candor on the whole is concerning,” the panel wrote in a footnote.

They wrote that claims of a prima-facie case only exists because of the panel’s findings, which had due-process violations. They wrote that some were denied a right to counsel and others were excluded from proceedings.

“Respondents continue to steadfastly maintain that they testified truthfully and honestly before the Panel and in subsequent submissions to this Court. There  is  no  basis  for  this  Court  to  assert  that  the  Panel  disbelieved  or  discredited Respondents’ testimony or otherwise engaged in any purported fraud on the Court,” they wrote.

******************************************************************************************

Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

Missouri

Planned Parenthood will fight Missouri AG on trans youth records

Lawyers representing Planned Parenthood and the Missouri AG argued Monday over HIPPA protections during a St. Louis Circuit Court hearing

Published

on

Advocates with PROMO and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri rally outside of the St. Louis Civil Courts building Monday afternoon (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

By Annelise Hanshaw | ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A circuit court judge heard arguments Monday over whether the Missouri attorney general’s efforts to access medical records of transgender youth violate privacy protections.

Monday’s hearing was convened at the request of Bailey in the hopes that the court would amend a previous order that requires patients to waive HIPAA rights before their medical records could be shared. If they don’t waive HIPAA, their documents would be exempt from the attorney general’s request for medical records.

HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, protects patients from their providers disclosing their personally identifiable health information.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Joseph Whyte did not immediately rule following the hearing. Richard Muniz, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said if the decision is unfavorable, his organization will appeal.

“Our commitment to our patients is that we will fight this as long as we need to,” Muniz told The Independent. “Today, we’ve already signaled that we are going to appeal because we think that we shouldn’t have to turn over documents, especially patient records, but we shouldn’t have to partake in this investigation at all.”

Bailey launched his investigation in March 2023 looking into gender-affirming care of minors after the affidavit of Jamie Reed, who worked at Washington University’s adolescent Transgender Center. In April, another circuit court judge ruled that Bailey may continue his investigation — adding that patients must waive HIPAA rights before their private health information could be shared.

Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, Washington University and Planned Parenthood Great Plains are also arguing against the attorney general’s civil investigative demands.

The April decision, beyond giving patients the ability to protect their medical records, granted Bailey power to investigate Planned Parenthood under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, a state law that allows the attorney general’s office to investigate deceptive marketing practices.

Matthew Eddy, an attorney representing Planned Parenthood said during his arguments Monday that the attorney general’s authority under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act has yet to be fully litigated.

Health care providers are fearful of what the attorney general might do with more information. Prior reporting by The Independent revealed Bailey’s use of the Division of Professional Registration, which is investigating therapists as a result of a complaint from his office.

After the attorney general’s office received a list of minor patients that received care at the Washington University Transgender Center and other documents, therapists and social workers that had written letters of support for patients to go to the Transgender Center had their licenses at risk. As of early May, 16 of 57 cases were still open.

Hearing

Deputy Solicitor General Sam Freeland, representing the attorney general, argued Monday that a federal regulation allows medical records to be released when ordered by the court. He told the judge this exception was “not discussed by the plaintiff.”

“HIPAA has not barred the disclosure of the documents in question,” Freeland argued.

He said Planned Parenthood had the burden of proof to show that HIPAA covers the documents.

Eddy this was “simply not correct.”

“Planned Parenthood has proven the general rule that HIPAA protects disclosure,” he said. “The burden is on the respondent to show that the exception applies.”

Eddy further attacked the premise of Bailey’s investigation, which Freeland argued was not on the table Monday.

He said the attorney general’s civil investigative demands, which Eddy said were titled as an investigation into the Washington University Transgender Center, “had no allegations as to Planned Parenthood’s conduct.”

“He can’t point to a single complaint from a patient, a patient’s parent,” Eddy said.

Eddy said the attorney general “had 54 incredibly broad requests for information.”

“Included in the requests are information that would be deeply sensitive to transgender minors,” he told the judge.

Muniz told reporters one of the requests was for “any document that mentions TikTok,” calling the investigation a “sprawling phishing expedition.”

In press releases, Bailey has expressed a belief that all gender-affirming medical providers are connected.

“I launched this investigation to obtain the truth about how this clandestine network of clinics subjected children to puberty blockers and irreversible surgery, often without parental consent,” he said in a statement following the hearing Monday. “We are moving forward undeterred with our investigation into Planned Parenthood. I will not stop until all bad actors are held accountable.”

Muniz said Planned Parenthood does not have a formal relationship with Washington University, which was the focus of Reed’s affidavit and the beginning of Bailey’s investigation.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood rallied before the hearing, calling the investigation a political attack.

“(Bailey) only wants (the records) so he can politicize gender affirming care and to put a target on transgender and gender-non-conforming patients,” Margot Riphagen, Planned Parenthood St. Louis’s vice president of external affairs, said during the rally.

Katy Erker-Lynch, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy organization PROMO, called the attorney general’s actions “scary.”

“He has pushed credentialing committees of social workers, professional counselors and family and marital therapists to investigate every single provider on the eastern side of the state that has offered a letter of support for a trans or gender expansive kid to receive care,” she said, referencing a Division of Professional Registration investigation that stemmed from the AG’s complaint.

Around 40 people attended the rally, filling the courtroom until a small group were standing in the back. Most wore t-shirts with phrases like “protect trans kids” or “I fight with Planned Parenthood” and filed into the seats behind Planned Parenthood’s lawyers before sitting on the opposing side.

“Thank you,” a few people told Eddy as they walked out of the St. Louis courtroom.

******************************************************************************************

Annelise Hanshaw

Annelise Hanshaw writes about education — a beat she has covered on both the West and East Coast while working for daily newspapers in Santa Barbara, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. A born-and-raised Missourian, she is proud to be back in her home state.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Missouri Independent and is republished with permission.

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to relentless investigative journalism and daily reporting that sheds light on state government and its impact on the lives of Missourians. This service is free to readers and other news outlets.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

Montana

Montana court hears arguments defining sex as ‘male’ or ‘female’

The bill drew national attention from critics, who said it left no place for those who don’t fit a biologically narrow definition

Published

on

Thane Johnson, representing the state of Montana, gestures in Missoula County District Court during arguments over a bill that defines sex as “male” and “female.” (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

By Keila Szpaller | MISSOULA, Mont. – Defining “sex” makes some people think back on the President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal — so said lawyer Kyle Gray on Tuesday in Missoula County District Court.

In that case, the president swore he didn’t have “sexual relations” with a White House intern, but questions swirled around what exactly had been happening in the Oval Office when it came to sex.

 Lawyer Kyle Gray, left, with Holland & Hart, argues on behalf of plaintiffs who allege Senate bill 458 is unconstitutional. Lawyer Alex Rate, right, with the ACLU of Montana, also represents plaintiffs.
(Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

Gray, representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit over a 2023 bill that defines “sex,” said the word can mean sexual intercourse as much as it can refer to “male” and “female.”

Senate Bill 458, the subject of litigation, aims to define sex as “male” or “female.”

The Montana Constitution, however, says the public needs to have a clear idea of the topic of a bill, and that a bill must have “only one purpose.” As such, Gray argued SB 458 missed the mark.

The bill’s title is “an act generally revising the laws to provide a common definition for the word sex when referring to a human.” It lists 41 sections of law to be revised.

“It’s the poster boy for violating the single-subject clearly expressed in the title of the bill,” said Gray, of Holland & Hart.

On behalf of the State of Montana, however, attorney Thane Johnson told Judge Shane Vannatta the point of the “single subject” rule is to prevent fraud and deception. It ensures a bill isn’t hiding things or keeping information under wraps, he said, and SB 458 spells out its plan for updates.

SB 458 defines sex as male or female, and Johnson said the title “puts the world on notice” of its intent for numerous updates. Additionally, he said, a title can’t rule out all other interpretations without going on at length.

“Plaintiffs’ argument would lead to absurd results because our title would just … fill up pages,” Johnson said.

In 2023, the Montana Legislature adopted the controversial bill that defined sex based on people’s reproductive organs and the cells they produce at the time of birth.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana sued the state of Montana on behalf of Shawn Reagor, Dandilion Cloverdale, Jamie Doe, Linda Troyer and Jane Doe, alleging the law “is hopelessly confusing, overbroad, and … invades the province of the courts.”

The bill drew national attention from critics, who said it left no place for people who don’t fit the biologically narrow and unscientific definition. The Human Rights Campaign referred to it as the “LGBTQ+ Erasure Act.”

Tuesday, however, the parties argued only about whether the bill’s title got crosswise with the Montana Constitution’s requirement that a bill generally address only one topic, and that its title clearly expresses it.

In the argument for the state, Johnson said the title did refer to a common definition of sex, and he pointed to Webster’s Dictionary as one piece of evidence. He also explained the rationale behind the bill as addressing an idea that’s emerged in the last 10 years or so.

“The legislature just felt the need to define that term more clearly under the concept of modern times, and I don’t think there’s any question that this is the state of affairs that we are in,” Johnson said.

Although Johnson said the bill meets the single subject requirement, he said he believes it fits better as one of the exceptions to the rule. To that end, he peeled apart the requirement in Article 5 Section 11 subsection 3 of the state constitution:

“Each bill, except general appropriation bills and bills for the codification and general revision of the laws, shall contain only one subject, clearly expressed in its title. If any subject is embraced in any act and is not expressed in the title, only so much of the act not so expressed is void.”

Johnson argued the constitution allows for three exceptions — appropriation bills, codification bills, and general revision bills — and said SB 458 fit the exception given it was “generally revising” the law.

But he said the bill is constitutional either way, whether it’s an exception to the rule, as he believes, or it’s not.

Vannatta asked Johnson about “male” and “female” not being in the title, and Johnson pointed out the title refers to “humans.” Vannatta also wanted to know how the state responded to sex referring also to intercourse, but Johnson said the court is “obligated to liberally construe the definition.”

Vannatta had asked the plaintiffs whether the concepts of “male” and “female” don’t naturally flow from the term “sex,” as the defendants allege. Gray countered that defining sex led her to think of the political scandal with Clinton.

Gray also said the language about bill titles had never been interpreted the way the state was interpreting it. She said the point is to ensure the public knows what is taking place, and a reference to “generally revising” in the title doesn’t cut it.

“A bill generally revising laws about dogs wouldn’t tell you that the legislature has decided to outlaw rabies,” Gray said as an example.

In this case, Gray said the title appears to be “very deceptive,” although she said it’s possible no one thought about other definitions.

Regardless, she said, the title of the bill doesn’t give the public an idea of the way the law would change things in practice.

For example, she said, with its definition of sex as “male” or “female,” is Montana saying a hospital can discriminate against admitting a person who is transgender or intersex?

“Well, if they’re saying that, certainly the public wants to know,” Gray said.

Also, what do sex and gender have to do with interstate signage or building codes? Gray said some issues relate to gender, but some “make no sense at all,” and the public would need to dig into the subject matter to find out.

 Reagor, lead plaintiff, left, speaks with observer Keppen, right, after the hearing.
(Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

After the hearing, Vannatta said he would take the request for summary judgment under advisement and rule when possible.

If the judge finds in favor of the plaintiffs, the law will be off the books, said Alex Rate, lawyer for the ACLU of Montana.

However, if the judge finds in favor of the state, the court will consider the second claim from plaintiffs, he said; they also argue it is up to the courts, not the legislature, to determine the definition of sex because it’s part of the Equal Protection clause of the constitution.

That issue wasn’t the subject of Tuesday’s hearing.

Reagor, one of the plaintiffs, said the courtroom heard just one of the arguments the bill was unconstitutional, but it’s not the only one: “I think it’s really disappointing that so many taxpayer dollars are being wasted on defending bills that are malicious and that legislators knew were unconstitutional when they passed them.”

******************************************************************************************

Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by The Daily Montanan and is republished with permission.

The Daily Montanan is a nonprofit, nonpartisan source for trusted news, commentary and insight into statewide policy and politics beneath the Big Sky.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge wants Q&A doc from lawyers in trans medical case

The report concluded lawyers had engaged in judge-shopping, adding sometimes lawyers consider potential judges in determining where to file

Published

on

The Frank M. Johnson Jr. Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama, seen on January 24, 2023. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

By Jemma Stephenson | MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A federal judge in Montgomery Friday ordered attorneys representing transgender families to turn over a document used to prep lawyers ahead of a hearing over alleged judge shopping. 

In the 51-page filing, U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke told the lawyers to provide the information, known as a Q&A document, to the judge for an in-camera review, to decide whether or not the document is covered by attorney-client privilege.

Burke, appointed by former President Donald Trump, has accused the attorneys for the families of trying to a get a judge that would be favorable to their case.

“This is not an ordinary civil case in which a court simply disbelieved testimony about an important fact: here, a three-judge panel was investigating whether lawyers intentionally attempted to subvert the administration of justice by judge-shopping, unanimously found that they did, unanimously disbelieved their explanations that they did not, unanimously expressed concern about their candor, and unanimously found that one lawyer lied outright,” he wrote. “If this is not enough to open the door for an in camera review of the Q&A document, it is difficult to imagine what would suffice.”

According to the Legal Information Institute, “in camera” reviews “are held in private before a judge where the press and the public are not allowed to take part.”

In May, a filing from the attorneys said that the document was an appropriate preparation for questions from a panel investigating the allegations and not under a continuing order from the panel or generated to further crime or fraud. They wrote that it should not trigger the crime-fraud exception and that if an in-camera review must take place, it should be done by a special master.

A message was left with attorney Barry Ragsdale, who according to Burke created the document and represents some of the accused attorneys. A message was also left with the attorney for Kathleen Hartnett, who according to Burke’s filing has her own attorney. The whole Walker team was formerly represented by Ragsdale, according to Burke’s filing.

The plaintiffs sued Alabama in 2022 over a law making it a felony to prescribe hormones and puberty blockers in gender-affirming care. Burke, who heard the case, initially ruled for the plaintiffs and blocked the state law. But a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit overturned his ruling last year. The plaintiffs are seeking a full review of the decision by the circuit.

In 2022, shortly after Gov. Kay Ivey signed the restrictions on gender-affirming medical care, multiple lawsuits were filed against the law. According to an October report from a panel that investigated the charges of judge shopping, the first lawsuit in the U.S. Northern District of Alabama was originally assigned to U.S. District Judge Anna Manasco, who recused herself. The case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Staci G. Cornelius. There was not unanimous consent for “dispositive jurisdiction” by a magistrate judge, so the court was reassigned to Judge Annemarie Carnie Axon.

The second lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Middle District of Alabama, and the attorneys marked the case as related to Corbitt v. Taylor, a 2018 case. The case was assigned to Chief Judge Emily C. Marks. The attorneys filed a motion that the case be reassigned to Judge Myron H. Thompson, who presided over Corbitt. Thompson has historically ruled for abortion and civil rights cases. They also called Thompson’s chambers.

In the report, the panel accused an attorney of having “deliberately misled” the panel about the call to Thompson’s office. In the Friday filing, Burke wrote that this “provides a stand-alone evidentiary basis for a prima facie showing of fraud on the court.”

“Put differently, the Panel’s finding (and independently, the transcripts they rely on) support a prima facie case of perjury as a ‘crime,’ but they also suffice to show a prima facie case of fraud on the court under the separate heading of ‘fraud,’” he wrote.

According to the October filing, Marks entered an order to show why the case should not be transferred to the Northern District. Lawyers from the two cases had a conference call, and the parties consented to a transfer. Then the attorneys responded to the order and withdrew their motion. Marks transferred the case and it was randomly assigned to Burke, who set a hearing date. The attorneys in the cases were going to consolidate their cases.

Axon was presiding over a criminal trial, so the first case was transferred to Burke. The state attorneys then indicated that they would not file a motion to consolidate.

Within minutes of each other, both of the lawsuits were dismissed by the attorneys. Attorneys told reporters that they were planning to refile.

Burke filed an order that included that the lawyers were giving an appearance of judge shopping. At his direction, the clerk forwarded that order to the chief judge of each district in Alabama.

A new case was filed in the U.S. Middle District and was assigned to Burke by designation.

The panelists’ October report concluded that the lawyers engaged in judge-shopping.

“The Panel is not naïve,” the panel wrote in their October report. “Lawyers sometimes consider potential judicial assignments in determining where to file a case, and there may be reasons why in certain cases some judges may be considered more favorable draws than others. So the panel does not condemn the lawyers for fretting about their chances of success before a particular judge. Of course, the irony here is that counsel ultimately succeeded before Judge Burke. But in this case, counsel did more than fret. They made plans and took steps in an attempt to manipulate the assignment of these cases.”

related

Since then, Burke has requested that the document be overturned and met with the accused attorneys after a recent court hearing. The panelists had asked the attorneys if they had been coached on what to say in the proceedings, and most of the lawyers said no. One lawyer, Milo Inglehart, said he had been provided the Q&A document the night before that included talking points in response to some potential questions.

The panel asked for the document to be turned over. The attorney did not do so, allegedly at the direction of Ragsdale.

“Mr. Ragsdale unilaterally decided that Mr. Inglehart could avoid producing the Q&A Document anyway—even though the Panel had just rejected counsel’s arguments that the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine shielded it from disclosure—because the July 25 order exempted ‘privileged communications’ from disclosure in the respondents’ declarations,” wrote Burke in a footnote. “Even though the panel denied the request for a protective order, Mr. Inglehart nonetheless withheld the Q&A document as privileged at his counsel’s advice.”

The judge wrote that the document must be provided by 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

******************************************************************************************

Jemma Stephenson

Jemma Stephenson covers education as a reporter for the Alabama Reflector. She previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser and graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

******************************************************************************************

The preceding article was previously published by the Alabama Reflector and is republished with permission.

The Alabama Reflector is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to covering state government and politics in the state of Alabama. Through daily coverage and investigative journalism, The Reflector covers decision makers in Montgomery; the issues affecting Alabamians, and potential ways to move our state forward.

We’re part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Club Q shooter gets life in prison for federal hate crimes 

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history” – FBI Director Wray

Published

on

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. (Screenshot/YouTube U.S. Justice Dept)

DENVER, Colo. – Anderson Lee Aldrich, 24, formerly of Colorado Springs, Colorado, was sentenced to 55 concurrent life sentences to run consecutive to 190 years in prison after pleading guilty to 74 hate crimes and firearms charges related to the Nov. 19, 2022, mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ establishment in Colorado Springs.  

According to the plea agreement, Aldrich admitted to murdering five people, injuring 19, and attempting to murder 26 more in a willful, deliberate, malicious, and premediated attack at Club Q. According to the plea, Aldrich entered Club Q armed with a loaded, privately manufactured assault weapon and began firing. Aldrich continued firing until subdued by patrons of the Club. As part of the plea, Aldrich admitted that this attack was in part motivated because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity of any person.

“Fueled by hate, the defendant targeted members of the LGBTQIA+ community at a place that represented belonging, safety, and acceptance – stealing five people from their loved ones, injuring 19 others, and striking fear across the country,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Today’s sentencing makes clear that the Justice Department is committed to protecting the right of every person in this country to live free from the fear that they will be targeted by hate-fueled violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love. I am grateful to every agent, prosecutor, and staff member across the Department – from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, to the Civil Rights Division, the ATF, and FBI – for their work on this case. The Justice Department will never stop working to defend the safety and civil rights of all people in our country.”

“The 2022 mass shooting at Club Q is one of the most violent crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community in history,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “The FBI and our partners have worked tirelessly towards this sentencing, but the true heroes are the patrons of the Club who selflessly acted to subdue the defendant. This Pride Month and every month, the FBI stands with the survivors, victims, and families of homophobic violence and hate.”

“ATF will not rest until perpetrators like this defendant are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Director Steven Dettelbach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “I hope today’s life sentence brings at least some peace to the victims and survivors of this senseless, horrific tragedy. That this sentence should come during Pride month reinforces how far we have left to go before all communities, including all LGBTQIA+ communities, are safe here. It also shows how far ATF and all our partners will go to ensure hatred does not win.”

“The defendant’s mass shooting and heinous targeting of Club Q is one of the most devastating assaults on the LGBTQIA+ community in our nation’s history. This sentence cannot reclaim the lives lost or undo the harms inflicted. But we hope that it provides the survivors, the victims’ families, and their communities a small measure of justice,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our message today should be loud and clear. No one should have to fear for their life or their safety because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who perpetrate hate-fueled, bias-driven attacks.”

“Hate has no place in our country and no place in Colorado” said Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch for the District of Colorado. “I hope that today’s sentence demonstrates to the victims and those connected to this horrific event that we do not tolerate these heinous acts of violence.”

The FBI Denver Field Office, Colorado Springs Police Department, and ATF investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alison Connaughty and Bryan Fields for the District of Colorado and Trial Attorney Maura White of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division prosecuted the case.

related
Continue Reading

U.S. Federal Courts

Appeals Court overturns Okla. anti-Trans birth certificate policy

The U.S. District Court dismissed the complaint in June 2023, and Lambda Legal appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals

Published

on

Courtroom, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Byron R. White U.S. Courthouse, Denver, Colorado. (Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith Archive/Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

DENVER, Colo. – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit overturned a lower court ruling that had dismissed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s anti-trans birth certificate policy, which categorically prohibits transgender people from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

All three members of the panel agreed that the lawsuit stated a valid claim of unconstitutional discrimination against transgender people and that the government’s justifications for this discrimination were irrational.

The court explained the Constitution requires that “there must be some rational connection between the Policy and a legitimate interest. There is no rational connection here—the Policy is in search of a purpose.” A majority of the court also held that any government discrimination against transgender people triggers heightened judicial scrutiny.

“This ruling stands as a monumental win for the transgender community in Oklahoma and nationwide, sending a clear message to lawmakers everywhere that unconstitutional discrimination against transgender people will not be tolerated by the courts,” said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Peter Renn. “This ruling comes at a critical time amidst a surge in anti-transgender policies of all stripes across the country. That includes attempts, like the one here, to roll back the basic ability of transgender people to correct their identity documents to match who they are, which can expose them to harassment, abuse, and physical danger.”

Related

On November 8, 2021, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order that reversed the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s (OSDH) prior practice of allowing transgender people to correct their birth certificates to match their gender identity, which had existed for at least 14 years from 1997-2021.

Governor Stitt explained, “I believe that people are created by God to be male or female.  Period,” and vowing to take “whatever action necessary to protect Oklahoma values and our way of life.”  Previously, transgender people could correct their birth certificates by presenting a court order to OSDH, but following the executive order, OSDH has refused to comply with such orders.

Lambda Legal joined by Tulsa attorney Karen Keith Wilkens filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma on March 14, 2022 challenging the Oklahoma Republican Governor’s executive order.

The U.S. District Court dismissed the complaint in June 2023, and Lambda Legal appealed the decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Continue Reading

Popular