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The California-Kavanaugh nexus

State lawmakers play critical roles in the confirmation drama

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein during the Sept. 27, 2018 hearing testimony from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. (Photo screen grab from C-SPAN)

What is the indelible memory of her alleged sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh—President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court—Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was asked by the Republicans’ sexual assault prosecutor?

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and them having fun at my expense,” Ford says, her voice cracking, describing what she felt was an attempted rape and possible accidental murder by a very inebriated 17-year-old Kavanugh when she was 15 years old as his best friend Mark Judge watched. “I was underneath one of them while the two laughed.”

Like Professor Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearing, many Americans found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s Sept. 27 testimony credible—not only because of her emotional authenticity and moment-to-moment search for the truth but because of her credentials. She’s a Professor of Psychology at Palo Alto University and a Research Psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, where she received a master’s degree in Epidemiology in 2009; she received her first Master’s degree in 1991 in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University; and a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California USC).

Ford not only displayed signs of trauma that she continues to feel from the incident—where Kavanaugh allegedly put his hand over her mouth to stifle her screams—but she repeatedly tried to explain that she came forward to Democratic California Rep. Anna Eshoo when she saw Kavanaugh’s name on Trump’s short list of candidates for the Supreme Court. Subsequently, she sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein sharing her experience and asking for complete confidentiality.

“It was my understanding that it was going to be kept confidential – period,” she said in response to questioning from prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who stood in for Republican senators during the historic Judiciary Committee hearing. 

Feinstein, the Ranking Member on the committee, continues to come under intense criticism for holding that confidence—from committee Chair Chuck Grassley and especially from new Trump avenger, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who appears to be auditioning for Attorney General after Trump presumably fires Attorney General Jeff Session.

State Sen. Kevin de Leon, who is challenging Feinstein in her re-election bid, also questioned why the senior U.S. senator did not violate the sexual assault survivor’s trust and at least show Ford’s letter to her Democratic colleagues. Feinstein did send the letter to the FBI to have Ford’s charges investigated. But without prior authorization to re-open Kavanaugh’s background check from the White House, the FBI simply put the letter in his file. Ford only came forward after word of the letter leaked and reporters showed up at her home and work. It was then that she decided to do the interview with the persistent Washington Post. It was Grassley who finally released the entire letter.

But Ford and Feinstein are not the only Californians playing a major role in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. In his rush to confirm the controversial judge, Grassley has refused to call two other credible accusers to testify. In an interview with Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, Deborah Ramirez claimed Kavanaugh “exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away,” during a drunken party when he was a freshman at Yale.  Like Ford, Ramirez also called for an FBI investigation.

Republicans blasted her story as not credible until San Mateo-based James Roche, Kavanaugh’s Yale roommate in the Fall of 1983, said he believes Ramirez. Though “Brett was normally reserved, he was a notably heavy drinker, even by the standards of the time, and that he became aggressive and belligerent when he was very drunk. I did not observe the specific incident in question, but I do remember Brett frequently drinking excessively and becoming incoherently drunk,” he told KGO TV. His friend Ramirez “stood out as being exceptionally honest, with a trusting manner.”

Kit Winter, an openly gay man who shared that small dorm living space with Kavanaugh and Roche, also witnessed the Supreme Court nominee being extremely drunk and suspects Kavanaugh might have been the person who nailed a dead bird to his door. “I have thought a lot about Kavanaugh’s statement on Fox, that he never drank so much that he didn’t remember what he had done the next morning. And having witnessed the level of drunkenness of Brett and his crew in that dorm, and the vomitous aftermath in the bathroom, I find that very hard to believe,” Winter told The Cut.

Another Californian playing a major role in the Kavanaugh affair is Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney Michael Avenatti, whose client Julie Swetnick produced a three-page affidavit that included a list of explosive allegations against Kavanaugh, including that she witnessed him spiking the drinks at high school parties and stand in a “train” line with other guys waiting to have sex with a drunk girl. She also alleged she was raped with Kavanaugh and Mark Judge around when it happened.

During her five minutes to speak during Ford’s appearance, California Sen. Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, reminded Ford that she was not on trial. “I believe you and I believe many Americans believe you,” she told the witness, thanking Dr. Ford for doing her civic duty at the great personal cost of having to move after death threats to her and her family. “You have been a true patriot,” Harris told Ford. “You are a true profile in courage at this time.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

U.S. Appellate Court rules trans people have legal protections under ADA

“This is a thorough, well-reasoned opinion recognizing that the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with gender dysphoria”

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Lewis F. Powell Jr. Courthouse, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Richmond VA (Photo Credit: GSA)

RICHMOND – Transgender people have additional protections from discrimination in the eyes of federal law for having a disability if they experience gender dysphoria, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in a consequential decision that marks a first for a federal appeals court.

A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, determined the Americans with Disability Act prohibits discrimination against people with gender dysphoria — despite explicit language in the law excluding “transsexualism” and “gender identity disorder” as a protected classes.

U.S. Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, an appointee of Bill Clinton, wrote in a 56-page decision gender dysphoria doesn’t fall under the those two categories in the law because “gender dysphoria is not a gender identity disorder.”

“[T]he ADA excludes from its protection anything falling within the plain meaning of ‘gender identity disorders,’ as that term was understood ‘at the time of its enactment,’” Motz writes. “But nothing in the ADA, then or now, compels the conclusion that gender dysphoria constitutes a ‘gender identity disorder’ excluded from ADA protection.”

As a result, the appeals court remanded the case for additional review to the lower trial court, which had come to the opposite conclusion and determined transgender aren’t covered under ADA.

The case was filed a Kesha Williams, a transgender woman with gender dysphoria who spent six months, incarcerated in the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. Although she was initially housed in a women’s prison, she was transferred to a man’s prison when officials learned she was transgender and was faced delays in getting transition-related care as well as harassment from fellow inmates and prison officials.

Among the group advocating in the case for additional protections under ADA were LGBTQ groups, including GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Fourth Circuit.

Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s transgender rights project director, said in a statement the decision is a “huge win” for transgender advocates because “there is no principled reason to exclude transgender people from our federal civil rights laws.”

“It’s incredibly significant for a federal appeals court to affirm that the protections in our federal disability rights laws extend to transgender people,” Levi said. “It would turn disability law upside down to exclude someone from its protection because of having a stigmatized medical condition. This opinion goes a long way toward removing social and cultural barriers that keep people with treatable, but misunderstood, medical conditions from being able to thrive.”

The idea transgender people are covered under ADA has been controversial even among transgender people. On one hand, reading the law to include transgender people gives them added legal protections. On the other hand, transgender advocates have fighting hard for years to make the case being transgender isn’t a mental disorder. The American Psychological Association removed “gender dysphoria” as a type of mental disorder with the publication of DSM–5 in 2013.

“This is a thorough, well-reasoned opinion recognizing that the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with gender dysphoria,” said NCLR’s Legal Director Shannon Minter. “This decision sets a powerful precedent that will be important for other courts considering this critical issue.”

Although the Fourth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule transgender people have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, other courts have come to the same determination. In 2017, a federal trial judge in Pennsylvania ruled transgender people are able to sue in cases of discrimination under ADA despite the exclusions under the law.

“The effort to exclude transgender people from their rightful protections under the ADA was always baseless and discriminatory,” said Joshua Block, Staff Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ & HIV Project, “and we’re thankful the Fourth Circuit affirmed that reality today. Transgender people are denied a multitude of reasonable rights and accommodations, particularly while incarcerated, and today’s ruling is a step forward for their fairness and equality.”  

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Mississippi

Police: Murder ‘isolated’ incident- no ongoing threat to LGBTQ community

Police arrested Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, & he is currently being held without bond

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Jimmie “Jay” Lee (Photo courtesy of the Oxford Mississippi Police Department)

By Molly Minta | OXFORD – The Oxford Mississippi Police Department released a statement Friday afternoon that the killing of Jimmie “Jay” Lee, a Black student who was well-known in the town’s LGBTQ community, is an “isolated incident” that does not reflect a broader threat to queer people in Mississippi. 

The statement comes three days after a Lafayette County judge determined there was probable cause for police to arrest Sheldon Timothy Herrington Jr., a 22-year-old Ole Miss graduate, for Lee’s murder, and that he should be held without bond. 

“Based on the information collected to date, our investigators believe this crime represents an isolated incident stemming from the relationship between Jay Lee and Tim Herrington,” the release states. 

Members of the LGBTQ community in Oxford have been asking police to release more information about the nature of the case ever since Herrington was arrested three weeks ago. Many members said more transparency from police would help them make decisions about how to stay safe. 

Police nodded to this perspective in the release: “More broadly, we want to stress that our agencies are committed to doing all that we can to maintain a safe environment for everyone in our community.”

Members of the LBGTQ community are more likely to be the victim of physical harm from domestic and intimate partners. This is especially true for Black queer people who face compounded discrimination due to homophobia and racism — a routine threat of violence that is personal and systemic, with roots much deeper than any one case.

The release also follows a story Mississippi Today published earlier this week based on accounts from 11 LGBTQ students, faculty and University of Mississippi alumni who said they no longer felt safe in Oxford. At least one community member is afraid to leave their house, said Jaime Harker, the director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies at UM and the owner of Violet Valley, a feminist bookstore near Oxford. 

Harker said she felt that OPD’s silence contributed to harrowing rumors in the community about the nature and reason for Lee’s killing. 

“I think people are filling the void with what their biggest fears are,” she said. 

Lee, 20, was a well-known member of Oxford’s LBGTQ community who regularly performed at Code Pink, a local drag night. An open, confident person, Lee ran for homecoming king last year to promote a platform of “self love and living your truth.” He repeatedly spoke out about the harassment received for wearing women’s clothing. 

For many people in the community, Lee’s outspokenness made his disappearance all the more terrifying. 

Lindsey Trinh, a senior journalism student at Ole Miss, told Mississippi Today that after weeks of receiving no information about Lee’s killing, she decided she was too fearful and anxious to return to classes in person. She wrote an email to the university provost and her professors explaining how Lee’s case had affected her. 

“At the time and because of the unknown of why this has happened to Jay and the whereabouts of his body, I have decided that I cannot physically come back to Oxford for my last semester this Fall,” Trinh wrote in her email. “I fear for my safety and well-being as an outspoken and proud gay person of color.”

Authorities believe that Lee’s body, still missing, is somewhere in Lafayette or Grenada County. But the circumstantial evidence that police have so far gathered was enough to bring charges, Lafayette County Assistant District Attorney Tiffany Kilpatrick argued in court on Tuesday. 

“In 2022 you do not need a body,” Kilpatrick said. “It’s not the 1870s.” 

During the preliminary hearing, Kilpatrick alleged that Herrington’s casual relationship with Lee was unknown to his friends and family. She said that early in the morning on July 8, Herrington “lured” Lee to his apartment, strangled him, and then “staged a cover up” by driving Lee’s car to Molly Barr Trails, a student housing complex. 

Herrington then picked up a box truck belonging to his moving company, Kilpatrick said, and drove it to his parent’s house in Grenada where he retrieved a long-handle shovel and wheelbarrow. 

Kilpatrick argued that Herrington should have been denied bond because his charge – first-degree murder – will likely be elevated to capital murder as police uncover more evidence; some of which is still being processed at a private crime lab. Kilpatrick also argued Herrington was a flight risk, noting that a forensic search of his MacBook showed he had searched for flights from Dallas to Singapore. 

Herrington’s defense attorney, state Rep. Kevin Horan, disputed that Herrington, who has $1,910 in his bank account, could afford to flee the state. In his closing statement, Horan said the prosecution’s case amounted to “suspicion, conjecture and speculation.” 

Horan called four witnesses who testified, in an effort to obtain bond for Herrington, to his character and connections to the community in Grenada. The witnesses included Herrington’s mother, an elder at his church, one of his teachers, and ??Emily Tindell, the principal of Grenada High School. 

Tindell said that Herrington and his family have “the best of character in Grenada County.”

In her closing statement, Kilpatrick said that Herrington was not the same person that his teachers and family described. 

“They don’t know this other Tim Herrington, his double life,” she said. “They don’t know the Tim Herrington who lives in anonymity. This Tim Herrington, your honor, is the Tim Herrington who killed Jay Lee.”

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Molly Minta, a Florida native, covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal, and Mother Jones.

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The preceding article was previously published by Mississippi Today and is republished with permission.

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Mississippi Today is building a better Mississippi by providing news and resources centered on the lived experiences of the people who live and work here. By donating, you’re joining the thousands of members who voluntarily pay to provide all Mississippians with free and accessible nonprofit journalism that holds public officials accountable and puts a human face on the issues.

MississippiToday.org is supported by grants from foundations, by contributions from donors and sponsors and by advertising. All donations are tax deductible.  A complete list of the Mississippi Today donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Politics

MAGA GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state opposes LGBTQ rights

Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies & the far-right. Before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers

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Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection. (Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

PHOENIX – Mark Finchem, a Republican Arizona state representative who won his party’s nomination in the race for Arizona Secretary of State, with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers.

Finchem is also completely opposed to LGBTQ rights and has endorsed allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues also known as conversion therapy.

Finchem has a long record of activism in far right extremist groups and political circles. While he has served since January of 2015 as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives representing District 11, he has also been actively engaged as a member of several far right groups and also has embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory.

His political positions on the equality rights of LGBTQ+ Arizonans is dismal. In a 2022 survey conducted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ conservative lobbying group run by Cathi Herrod, who is among Arizona’s most anti-LGBTQ lobbyists.

Center for Arizona Policy
2022 Survey Questions For Arizona Candidates
Position Sought: Secretary of State
Question 2: Adding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “gender expression” to the protected classes of race, religion, age, sex, and ancestry in nondiscrimination law.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose.
Question 4: Allowing biological males that identify as transgender to play on female sports’ teams.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose
Question 8: Allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.*
Candidates’ Position: Support
Question 9: Protecting individuals and businesses from being required to provide services or use their artistic expression in a manner that violates their moral or religious beliefs.**
Candidates’ Position: Support.
*  This is in reference to the dangerous and disproven “Reparative Therapy”.
**Discriminatory “Religious Freedom” laws.

In March of 2020 Finchem voted yes in support of Phoenix Republican Nancy Barto’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” bill (HB 2706), which would prohibits transgender female students from sports designated for females. The language specified that it requires any interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sport sponsored by  an educational institution in Arizona to be designated by one of the following based  biological sex: Males, men, or boys; Females, women or girls; co-ed.

On several social media websites linked from his since-deleted former Twitter account Finchem has also embraced and asserted former President Donald Trump’s lie about the 2020 being “stolen.”

Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection.
(Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

Finchem has been a self-identified as a member of The Oath Keepers since 2014, the anti-government, far-right militia composed of former and active military and law enforcement that purports to defend the U.S. Constitution.

CNN reported the group is perhaps best known for providing security for the January 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the Capitol riot. Eleven members, including its leader, were charged by the Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy” related to the Capitol attack.

According to CNN, Finchem’s most extreme content came on the social media platform Pinterest, which allows users to save, categorize and share posts called pins into digital mood boards. While Finchem has some light-hearted and conventional boards on food, fashion and dogs, he also has a board titled “Treason Watch List,” featuring photos of Jesse Jackson, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In February of this year, Finchem along with Kelli Ward the osteopathic physician who has serves as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party were subpoenaed  by the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee, regarding documents over actions reportedly taken among the Donald Trump supporters involved in sending slates of so-called “alternate electors” to Congress to be included in the electoral votes cast for president in the 2020 election.

In June in published reports by the Arizona Republic and Politico, Ward and her husband, Michael, received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding their involvement in a scheme to send fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Also in February, Finchem filed HCR 2033, which says that is it is the “justifiable position of the Arizona State Legislature that we set aside the results of the Maricopa, Pima and Yuma County elections as irredeemably compromised and reclaim the 2020 Presidential Electors.”

The lawmaker is also a rabid anti-vaxxer spreading dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic sharing a story last August riddled with misinformation on the coronavirus and vaccine on the platform Gab — a social media network popular with conservatives, the alt-right and some extremists.

Finchem labeled the vaccine a “crime against humanity,” implying it was a “bio-weapon” and wrote “It ain’t a vaccine!!! Call it what it is, a crime against humanity.”

In December of 2021, journalist Jake Dean at the Tucson alternative newspaper, the Tucson Weekly, in a lengthy political commentary laid out a synopsis of reasons Arizonans should not vote for the far-right lawmaker to become Arizona’s Secretary of State:

“Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies and the far-right. In fact, before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers—who played a leading role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the militia group is “founded on the belief that the federal government is part of an evil conspiracy intent on stripping Americans of their natural rights and freedoms.” Its members have encouraged violence in opposition. The founder of Oath Keepers has previously encouraged the murder of elected officials, including in 2015 openly calling for the late Sen. John McCain to be put to death by hanging.”
[…]
“He previously served as the Arizona coordinator for the Coalition of Western States—a group of legislators and activists who supported the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. He also signed a letter of support to pardon arsonists who burned federal government land.”
[…]
“Following the horrific events of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, Finchem denied any far-right involvement in the event—claiming that mainstream media was lying and that it was a Deep State PSYOP to construct a political narrative for Democrats. It was not. He also falsely accused contemporary Democrats as being the true members of the Ku Klux Klan who joined the rally.”
[…]
“Mark Finchem also parrots far-right conspiracies on vaccines. Sure, Finchem got COVID-19 himself. And yes, his mother lost her decades long battle with cancer soon after contracting the virus. But on his official Twitter in July, he warned President Joe Biden to take his “tweet as Arizona’s statewide ‘no trespassing sign.’ You and your vaccine henchmen have been forewarned.” I am unsure what exactly he is threatening here, but I believe you can read between the lines.”
 
“Finchem’s supply of money also comes from the right-wing extremists. One of his leading campaign funders is Daniel Brophy, a Wyoming-based political megadonor and brother of former State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix. According to a local legal group, Sen. McGee herself once described her brother as having alt-right political views after he gave money to her political rival. When a woman who has proudly touted her anti-LGBTQ+ bonafides and was painted as a bygone example of the Arizona GOP by English newspaper The Guardian calls you alt-right, I am going to have to take her word for it.”
 
“Rep. Finchem also attended the premiere of a “documentary” called The Deep Rig about an alleged conspiracy in the 2020 election. The film featured Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (who confirmed himself as “Anon” in the movie), former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and other leaders of election conspiracies in Arizona. Finchem supported the film despite the fact that its director has a history of baseless conspiracies—including the dedication of an entire film to the argument that extraterrestrials were the cause of the Sep. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers”
[…]
“Given his evident belief in the conspiracies of the far-right, of course Finchem was at the insurrection on Jan. 6 himself. Despite claiming that he never made it closer than 500 yards to the Capitol building, footage of the event clearly shows the politician in attendance himself. He also tweeted in praise of the insurrectionists. Plus, the prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander identified Finchem as the starting point of the anti-democratic movement in Arizona.”
 
“Not only was he there, but he then spread more conspiracies after the fact. In his newsletter following the attack in D.C., he claimed (falsely) that facial recognition technology had identified masses of leftist activists in the crowd. He also accused Antifa of responsibility for violence at the Capitol building, despite having no evidence for such claims. Further, even in the face of proof of him attending the event, he has repeatedly threatened to sue anybody attempting to connect him to the events at the Capitol.”

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