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Do or die for Buttigieg in Iowa?

Caucuses present key test for gay candidate’s viability

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Pete Buttigieg faces a crucial test on Monday as Iowans finally head to the caucuses. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: The Blade will have a reporter on the ground in Iowa next week covering the caucuses. Visit washingtonblade.com to follow updated reporting.

With just days to go before the Iowa caucuses on Monday, all eyes will be watching to see which candidate claims the momentum going forward — and a win for Pete Buttigieg is all but essential.

Buttigieg, the first viable gay presidential candidate, will need to win delegates in the Midwestern state near his home in South Bend, Ind., to show he can compete elsewhere in the nation. If he doesn’t pull it off, his case will be much harder to make.

Spencer Kimball, a professor in political and sports communication at Emerson College, said a strong performance in Iowa is “vital to a Buttigieg candidacy, and likely for [Sen. Amy] Klobuchar as well.”

“I think only one of them gets a ticket out of Iowa because they are both pulling from a similar voting bloc,” Kimball said. “Both need the momentum to catapult them onto the national stage as both are struggling nationally and in other early states.”

Although Buttigieg was once polling well above his competitors in Iowa, the front-runner status seems to belong to Bernie Sanders now. An Emerson College poll puts his support at 30 percent.

As pointed out by Vox, three of the four latest polls have the Democratic socialist from Vermont as the favored candidate, while former Vice President Joseph Biden is the front-runner in the fourth poll.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg’s ranking is now all over the place. The former South Bend mayor is second in the New York Times poll, with 18 percent support, but CBS and Suffolk polls put him in third, while the Emerson poll has him fourth place tied with Elizabeth Warren.

(National polls, in contrast, have Biden in the front-runner position, where he has been since he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last year. Although Biden’s performance in Iowa polls, as well as New Hampshire, is comparable to other Democratic candidates, he’s polling well ahead of the pack in South Carolina, which has a greater population of black voters.)

One prominent Buttigieg fundraiser who talked to the Blade on condition of anonymity emphasized the critical importance of finishing first or second in Iowa and New Hampshire. The winner in Iowa will see a tremendous boost in fundraising overnight, leading to a big advantage moving forward, the source said. If Buttigieg fails to finish in the top two in those states, he will likely be forced to end his campaign before Super Tuesday, the source added.

Keep in mind the Democratic primary contests aren’t winner-take-all like the Republican primary or the Electoral College. Each candidate will be allocated an amount of delegates proportionate to their wins on caucus night.

But what makes the situation demanding is a candidate needs at least 15 percent of support from caucus-goers at any particular site to remain viable. Any candidate with less than that won’t be scored by the Iowa Democratic Party to receive delegates in the presidential candidate nominating process at the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

As a result, the winner of the most delegates at the end of the day may be the candidate whose campaign has the greatest ground game and is able to bring out supporters to the caucus. If Buttigieg can pull that off, he may have a strong performance at the end of the day.

On top of that, the Iowa Democratic Party for the first time this year will report out the raw vote total for each of the candidates — both for the beginning and at the end of the caucus. Because a candidate needs to meet the 15 percent threshold to be viable, the numbers could be different at the end.

So that means three sets of results: A vote tally at the beginning, a vote tally at the end and the delegate count. As a result, three different Democratic contenders could claim victory when everything is said and done. Lyz Lenz, a columnist for The Gazette who was a moderator at the GLAAD presidential candidate forum in Iowa on LGBTQ issues, predicted caucus night is “going to be madness.”

“It’s possible I’m going to be very wrong,” Lenz said. “But I think we will see a lot of confusion coming out of the caucuses. There will be three reported counts. And in a very tight race, that’s three ways for candidates to claim some sort of victory. So, on to New Hampshire and no one will have to think about ethanol for another four years.”

In a related development, Biden took a not-so-veiled swipe at Bernie Sanders for accepting Joe Rogan’s support despite comments from the podcast host condemned as transphobic.

Taking to Twitter, Biden drew on comments he made as vice president when he called transgender rights “the civil rights issue of our time,” which stands in contrast to the Sanders campaign accepting Rogan’s support.

An LGBTQ backlash against Sanders ensued after he promoted the Rogan endorsement on his Twitter account. Among those criticizing Sanders was Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David, who said, “it is disappointing that the Sanders campaign has accepted and promoted the endorsement.”

“The Sanders campaign must reconsider this endorsement and the decision to publicize the views of someone who has consistently attacked and dehumanized marginalized people,” David said.

Among other things, Rogan in the past has said a transgender woman athlete is actually a man, has used anti-gay epithets before “retiring” them and compared a black neighborhood to “Planet of the Apes” before admitting the comments were racist.

Amid the backlash, the Sanders campaign didn’t retract the endorsement or admonish Rogan for his comments, but instead defended the decision.

“Sharing a big tent requires including those who do not share every one of our beliefs, while always making clear that we will never compromise our values,” said Sanders national press secretary Briahna Joy Gray.

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Kansas

Laws against gay sex ruled unconstitutional- but Kansas won’t drop ban

A bill pending in the Kansas Legislature would remove language in the state’s criminal sodomy law that targets LGBTQ people. Advocates say action is decades past due.

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Photo by Blaise Mesa / Kansas News Service

By Blaise Mesa | TOPEKA — Intercourse between same-sex couples technically remains a crime in Kansas even though the provision in state statute was ruled unconstitutional 19 years ago.

Since then, multiple attempts to remove the outdated language have failed.

The latest legislation to change the law has languished in a Statehouse committee without a hearing for over a year.

That bill would remove a line from the Kansas criminal sodomy law that makes sex a crime for “persons who are 16 or more years of age and members of the same sex.” The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 that such laws were unconstitutional.

“When it comes to something that’s just blatantly unconstitutional, there should be agreement that we follow the law,” said the bill’s sponsor Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “We need to repeal it.”

The bill doesn’t change other portions of the sodomy law, and Carmichael says law enforcement has been supportive of the changes for years, yet nothing has happened.

Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican who chairs the committee scrutinizing the latest legislation, said he hadn’t reviewed its details or decided whether to hold hearings on the bill. Owens said the committee will deal with other, higher-priority bills first.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation says nobody has been convicted of same-sex criminal sodomy for at least five years. Still, Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said the provision has been used to discriminate against LGBTQ people even if they weren’t convicted.

Witt said Kansans were arrested for same-sex relations even after the Supreme Court’s ruling, but the last time he heard that happened was in 2013. The criminal sodomy law also prevented LGBTQ law enforcement officers from being sworn in because violating the statute was a violation of their professional standards. Those standards were later amended to allow LGBTQ officers.

“It is an insult that my life is criminalized,” Witt said. “It is a further insult that people in (the Legislature) think it should stay that way.”

Justice Horn, vice chair of the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City, said the laws could also make people leave for cities with better civil rights protections. Horn, who is gay, said that hurts the community by hindering economic development while depriving it of diversity.

“I’ve thought plenty of times I could uproot and go to a place where I don’t have to deal with these issues,” Horn said. “I want our kids to grow up, and our youth and the generation coming up to not have to deal with this.”

Witt said the issues have subsided, but as long as it remains codified in state statute the issues could quickly become relevant again if the Legislature’s opinion of LGBTQ people grows worse, which he said is happening. He pointed to the bill last session that limited how transgender people could play sports as evidence of this.

Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said outdated state laws are common, but anti-LGBTQ laws send a message to people that they aren’t welcomed in the state.

“It’s a deliberate decision not to amend the code,” Brett said, “to get rid of these provisions that have been ruled unconstitutional.”

Republican Sam Brownback created the Office of the Repealer when he was governor to remove outdated and unconstitutional statutes, but changes to the criminal sodomy law weren’t recommended.

The committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, where the bill is bottled up, has a full set of hearings next week. Bills preventing shackling of youth in court, allowing people convicted of felonies to receive food stamps and adding new requirements for officers serving search warrants are currently scheduled for discussion.

“Given the opportunity, we might look at” the legislation to rewrite the state sodomy law, said Owens, the committee chair. “I wouldn’t say that is a priority for us to look at this time just because of all the other corrections and juvenile justice matters.”

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Blaise Mesa is the Social Services and Criminal Justice reporter for The Kansas News Service.

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The preceding article was previously published by The Kansas News Service and is republished by permission.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Supreme Court will hear challenges to affirmative action at Harvard & UNC

Six years ago, a divided court upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process

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

By Amy Howe | WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to reconsider the role of race in college admissions. In a brief order, the justices agreed to take up two cases asking them to overrule their landmark 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, holding that the University of Michigan could consider race as part of its efforts to assemble a diverse student body. The decision to grant review in the two new cases suggests that the court’s conservative majority is poised to do just that.

The cases are Students for Fair Admissions v. President & Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. The court consolidated them for oral argument, and they likely will be argued early in the 2022-23 term, which begins in October.

Six years ago, a divided court upheld the University of Texas’ consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the 4-3 majority in Fisher v. University of Texas, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. The composition of the court has changed significantly since then: Although Justice Elena was recused from the Texas case because she had been involved in it as the solicitor general of the United States, Kennedy retired in 2018 and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett succeeded Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

It was therefore a much more conservative court that considered the latest petitions asking the justices to revisit the issue. Both petitions arose from long-running lawsuits filed by a group called Students for Fair Admissions. Founded by Edward Blum, a former stockbroker who also backed the challenger in Fisher (as well as the challengers in Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 case that narrowed the Voting Rights Act), the group describes its mission as helping to “restore colorblind principles to our nation’s schools, colleges and universities.”

The first case, filed against Harvard University, contends that the university’s race-conscious admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants. According to the group, Asian Americans are significantly less likely to be admitted than similarly qualified white, Black, or Hispanic applicants. Both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit upheld Harvard’s policy, prompting SFFA to come to the Supreme Court in February 2021. The group urged the justices to take up the case and overrule Grutter, describing the 2003 ruling as a decision that was “grievously wrong” and now “sustains admissions programs that intentionally discriminate against historically oppressed minorities” – in the past, Jewish students, and now Asian Americans. The group also asked the justices to weigh in on whether Harvard’s policy violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination by entities receiving federal funding.

Harvard told the justices that there is no reason for them to intervene in the dispute. Its policy is consistent with the Supreme Court’s precedents, the university stressed, and SFFA’s allegations to the contrary rely on a “thoroughly distorted presentation of” the facts in the case. Harvard takes race into account “in a flexible and nonmechanical way” for the benefit of “highly qualified candidates.” And there is certainly no reason for the court to “overrule more than 40 years of decisions regarding the limited consideration of race in university admissions,” Harvard concluded.

The justices did not act on SFFA’s petition immediately. Instead, in June they sought the federal government’s views – a maneuver that had the effect  of delaying the case’s progression. In a brief filed in December, the Biden administration acknowledged that the Trump administration had supported SFFA in the lower courts, but it explained that it had “reexamined the case” and now recommended that the justices deny review.

The second case, filed against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the state’s flagship public university, argues that the university’s consideration of race in its undergraduate admissions process violates both Title VI and the Constitution. (Unlike Harvard, UNC is a public university and is therefore covered by the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.) After a federal district court in North Carolina rejected SFFA’s arguments, the group came straight to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to take up the case, alongside the Harvard case, before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit could rule.

UNC defended its admissions policy in the Supreme Court, telling the justices that it has also implemented programs to increase diversity without considering race – for example, by actively recruiting low-income and first-generation college students. But it concluded, it wrote, that there is no alternative that would create a student body “about as diverse and academically qualified as its holistic, race-conscious admissions process.” And although it acknowledged that the question at the center of the case is “indisputably important,” it stressed that there was no reason for the Supreme Court to take the “extremely rare” step of bypassing the court of appeals.

The justices considered both cases together at three consecutive conferences – on Jan. 7, Jan. 14, and Jan. 22 – before granting review on Monday and consolidating them.

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Amy Howe is the former editor and a reporter for SCOTUSblog and still is a contributor. She primarily writes for her eponymous blog, Howe on the Court.

Before turning to full-time blogging, she served as counsel in over two dozen merits cases at the Supreme Court and argued two cases there.

Amy is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and holds a master’s degree in Arab Studies and a law degree from Georgetown University.

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The preceding article was previously published by SCOTUSBlog and is republished by permission.

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Ohio

Heavy accumulation of snowfall makes clearing it a ‘fabulous’ effort

Winters in Cleveland can be a dreary time, but now we can hopefully at least look forward to another visit….

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Photo by Bethany Staley via Facebook/Twitter

LAKEWOOD, Oh. – As an Arctic air mass moved across the Midwest and into the Northeastern U.S. this past weekend, drawing in precipitation that led to several inches of snow falling with upwards of a foot or more in some areas and temperatures hovering in the teens to mid twenties, residents in this suburban Cleveland city were greeted with the sight of one person apparently untroubled by the weather.

The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com reported that a magical being appeared on Lakewood’s Wagar Avenue this weekend, snow blowing the sidewalk after Northeast Ohio got hit with inches of snow on Sunday.

A person dressed in an inflatable unicorn costume grabbed neighbors’ attention, working their way down Wagar Avenue, snow blowing the sidewalk for the entire street.

Local Lakewood resident, Bethany Staley took a couple of photos and a video and posted them to the Lakewood Community Facebook group, with the caption “Such an awesome community!!! The Wagar Ave. Unicorn was back this year and just made my night!!! My family and I loved watching him plow on by!!! Thank you, neighbor.”

The pictures were then shared on Twitter Sunday by SuzyLeeInCLE aka @WeThePeopleCLE which was then taken viral by appreciative users since its initial posting.

John Corlett replied to the tweet with a photo taken of the unicorn on Christmas Day in 2020.

“I was actually kind of sad when it didn’t snow this year on Christmas. I thought we might see him again,” Corlett said. “I remember that he even snow-blowed the driveway of someone who lived across the street.”

The Plain Dealer/cleveland.com noted; “Winters in Cleveland can be a dreary time, but now we can hopefully at least look forward to another visit from the mystical Lakewood snow-blowing unicorn, the next time it snows.”

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