U.S. Federal Courts
Federal lawsuit challenging New Hampshire classroom censorship law filed
‘This law erases the legacy of discrimination & lived experiences of Black & Brown people, women, LGBTQ+ people, & people with disabilities’
CONCORD, N.H. – A diverse group of educators, advocacy groups, and law firms filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging a New Hampshire classroom censorship law, contained within state budget bill HB2, which discourages public school teachers from teaching and talking about race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity in the classroom.
New Hampshire is one of many states across the country that passed similar laws in 2021 aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in the classroom. This is the third federal lawsuit in the country to facially challenge one of these bans, including the ACLU’s recently filed lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s classroom censorship law.
The lawsuit argues that HB2’s vague language unconstitutionally chills educators’ voices under the 14th Amendment, and prevents students from having an open and complete dialogue about the perspectives of historically marginalized communities, as well as on topics concerning race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
The lawsuit was brought by New Hampshire school administrators Andres Mejia and Christina Kim Philibotte, who both specialize in diversity, equity, and inclusion. The lawsuit was also brought by the National Education Association – New Hampshire (NEA-NH), which is comprised of more than 17,000 member educators in New Hampshire and represents the majority of all public school employees in the state.
They are represented by lawyers from a broad coalition of organizations and law firms, including the NEA-NH and National Education Association, the ACLU, the ACLU of New Hampshire, Disability Rights Center – New Hampshire, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, Nixon Peabody LLP, Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios LLP, and Shaheen & Gordon, P.A.
“We have dedicated our careers to creating an education community where every student—including Black and Brown students, students of color, students from the LGBTQAI+ community, students with disabilities, and students from other historically marginalized identities—feel like they belong,” said plaintiff Andres Mejia, the Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District, and plaintiff Christina Kim Philibotte, the Chief Equity Officer for the Manchester School District. “This law chills the very type of diversity, equity, and inclusion work that is absolutely necessary to ensure that each student is seen, heard, and connected, especially as New Hampshire becomes more diverse. We are proud to join this broad coalition challenging this law.”
According to the lawsuit, the law is so unclear and vague that it fails to provide necessary guidance to educators about what they can and cannot include in their courses, and that it invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement—up to and including the loss of teaching licenses.
“This unconstitutionally vague law disallows students from receiving the inclusive, complete education they deserve, and from having important conversations on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity in the classroom,” said Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “It is an attack on educators who are simply doing their job. Just four months into the school year, teachers are reporting being afraid to teach under this law for fear of being taken to court. This law, through vagueness and fear, erases the legacy of discrimination and lived experiences of Black and Brown people, women and girls, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.”
Following the bill’s passage, the NEA-NH began to hear from teachers that they were confused about what they could and could not teach, and that they were scared of the repercussions for guessing wrong. On multiple occasions, NEA-NH and other groups sent letters to the state asking for specific clarification. These letters went unanswered and unacknowledged.
“Teachers are trained and experienced in education and have a duty to set their students up to be successful contributors to society,” said Megan Tuttle, President of the National Education Association – New Hampshire. “Across New Hampshire, parents and educators are working together to build stronger public schools and create opportunities for students. Parents and educators agree that students should learn complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights. They agree that politicians shouldn’t be censoring classroom discussions between students and their teachers, and that educators shouldn’t have their licenses and livelihoods put at risk by a vague law.”
Although significant advances have been made in protecting the legal rights of people with disabilities, they continue to confront discrimination, ableism, stigma, and bias on a daily basis. For instance, in New Hampshire, school discipline has proven to be disproportionately harsh on students with disabilities, with even higher suspension rates for students of color with disabilities. Breaking down these barriers, both physical and societal, has required and continues to require open discussion about difficult subjects by people of all ages, especially by young people in educational settings.
“The banned concepts statute is a significant threat to the disability rights movement,” said Stephanie Patrick, Executive Director of Disability Rights Center-NH. “Necessary classroom discussions about disability, mental illness, ableism, inclusion, and other related topics will not occur if teachers fear that they will face discipline as a result. The chilling effect of this law not only threatens continued progress toward an inclusive society, it also jeopardizes the progress we have already made.”
In New Hampshire, LGBTQ+ youth face staggering levels of discrimination, with a 2019 state survey assessing school climate for LGBTQ+ youth in the state’s secondary schools finding that up to 63% of respondents reported verbal harassment for sexual orientation, and up to 22% reported physical harassment.
“Every day, dedicated teachers and administrators in New Hampshire public schools work to help students understand the world around them and prepare them for success as adults in this increasingly diverse state and country. This includes teaching the full picture of American history—both good and bad—so that students can reconcile its effect on our society in the present,” said Chris Erchull, Staff Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “Setting vague conditions on what educators can say about race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability not only harms students with historically marginalized identities but creates a climate of fear that denies all students the freedom to learn and the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, and to appreciate human differences.”
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Banned Concepts Act unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, and issue an order barring its enforcement.
NEA President Becky Pringle said, “Parents and teachers want to give kids – regardless of race and place – the best public education possible. They want kids to learn and grow and to prepare them to make sense of the present and prepare for the future. While educators—in New Hampshire and across the country—work to deliver our children an accurate and honest education, some policymakers continue to deny far too many of our children the resources needed for a quality public education based on what they look like or where they live. Now those politicians want to censor instruction, threatening educators with sanctions, including the loss of their very licenses to teach, for providing honest answers to students who ask how our history affects our present and how racism and sexism continues to impact our society. Our students deserve the truth so they can build the more perfect union for which we all long. Our educators deserve our support, not sanctions for educating our children.”
Emerson Sykes, Staff Attorney at the ACLU, said, “All young people deserve to learn an inclusive and accurate history in schools, free from censorship or discrimination. This law is drafted in a way that districts and teachers have no way of knowing what concepts and ideas are prohibited. The law unconstitutionally chills students’ and educators’ rights to learn and talk about race, gender, and disability and prevents students from having open conversations about our history.”
Morgan Nighan, an attorney with Nixon Peabody LLP, said, “Access to a public education that is equitable, inclusive and accurate is every students’ right. This bill attempts to censor what is taught in the classroom, to prevent honest, open dialogues about our country’s history with race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities, and many other marginalized groups. In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, we must encourage students to explore our history with a critical eye and embrace our differences as strengths.”
Below are additional comments from:
Asma Elhuni, Movement Politics Director at Rights and Democracy NH, said, “Every child regardless of race, gender, or religion deserves the freedom to learn and develop the knowledge and skill set to wrestle with the past, create a better future, and have the opportunity to live out their dreams. Self-interested politicians have chosen to censor the truth from our students, robbing them of the ability to understand that mistakes do and have happened, and what we do with mistakes, whether we learn from them or decide to repeat them is what matters. Rights and Democracy is thankful to see such a broad range of people in our communities coming together to challenge this unjust law. Together we will prove that when we join forces, we can build schools where every student – no matter their color or zip code they live in- have the freedom to learn honest history and stride together for a better tomorrow where everyone will have the ability to thrive.”
Maggie Fogarty, NH Program Director at American Friends Service Committee, said, “The Banned Concepts Act prevents the learning and critical thinking that are essential for a healthy society. It harms teachers and administrators who are forced to navigate its vagueness under threat of penalty, as well as students who are denied access to education about essential concepts such as racism and injustice. New Hampshire communities are weakened by the silence and fear that this Act seeks to impose. It is truth-telling that is needed now, not censorship. It is courage that is needed now, not fear. The American Friends Service Committee applauds this important lawsuit as an effort to protect public education and democracy, and to support the ongoing and urgent work for a more equitable society.”
Zandra Rice Hawkins, Executive Director of Granite State Progress, said, “Our children deserve an honest education that teaches them about America’s triumphs and also where our country has failed to lead, so that we can continue to build a more perfect union. Far-right actors at the state and national level are using laws like this to slow progress on racial justice and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, and to further push for the privatization of public education. It is to our detriment as a society to let them succeed. We are thankful for this lawsuit.”
James McKim, Managing Partner of Organizational Ignition, said, “The Right to Freedom from Discrimination statute passed as part of 2021 NH HB2 (formerly called the ‘Divisive Concepts’ statute) is an example of how seemingly well-intentioned legislation, and I am being generous here giving the benefit of the doubt that the legislation’s sponsors had in mind the benefit of everyone – not just those socialized as white, can be more damaging than saying nothing. My consulting practice helping organizations benefit from the diversity in our state and nation has been significantly negatively impacted by this statute. And people of color I know around the nation have told me this legislation makes New Hampshire seem unwelcoming. It is not only poorly crafted in language, but this it was not asked for by those whom it seems to seek to protect which makes it poor governance as articulated by the NAACP’s legal challenge to Executive Order 13950 (the ‘Order’) on which the New Hampshire statute was modeled. The citizens of New Hampshire, deserve better.”
Ronelle Tshiela, Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter Manchester, said, “The law prohibiting ‘banned concepts’ is an attempt to root out teaching of systemic racism by forcing educators to be dishonest about our nation’s history. Black Lives Matter Manchester supports any effort to overturn it, and we applaud the educators who are fighting back.”
This lawsuit comes weeks before the start of the 2022 New Hampshire legislative session, which will include multiple bills designed to double down on classroom censorship. HB1255 would expand New Hampshire’s Cold War-era “teacher loyalty” law to restrict the teaching of “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States.” HB1313 would expand HB2’s banned concepts language to include the state’s public higher education institutions. Legislation has also been introduced, including HB1090 and SB304, which would repeal the banned concepts language in HB2 and replace it with language that would protect educators who teach about the “historical or current experiences” of protected groups.
This lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
U.S. Federal Courts
ACLU sues to block Idaho’s ban on health care for trans youth
“This law is a dangerous intrusion upon the rights of Idaho families. Our state should be a safe place to raise every child, including trans”
BOISE — An Idaho law criminalizing gender-affirming health care for transgender youth is being challenged by families in federal court.
In a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Idaho, Wrest Collective, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and Groombridge, Wu, Baughman & Stone LLP, two Idaho families assert that HB 71, signed into law by Governor Brad Little earlier this year, violates the rights of transgender youth and their parents under the U.S. Constitution.
“Being able to live my life as my true self has been a long journey and my medical care has been an important part of that journey. My family, my doctors, and I have worked together to make decisions about my medical care, and it’s shocking to have politicians take those decisions away from us,” said Plaintiff Jane Doe, a 16-year-old transgender girl. “Trans people like myself deserve the same chance at safety and liberty as everyone else, but this law specifically targets us and our health care for no good reason. I’m 16–I should be hanging out with my friends and planning my future instead of fighting my State for the health care I need.”
“This law is a dangerous intrusion upon the rights and lives of Idaho families. Our state should be a safe place to raise every child, including transgender youth, and HB 71 threatens to deny them the safety and dignity they deserve,” said Amy Dundon, Legislative Strategist with the ACLU of Idaho. “We welcome this opportunity to defend the transgender youth of Idaho and their families from this discriminatory political attack and we won’t stop defending them until each one has all the care and support they need to thrive.”
“We are determined to protect the transgender youth of Idaho, their families, and their medical providers from this unjust and dangerous attack on their rights and lives,” said Li Nowlin-Sohl, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “This health care is supported by every major medical organization in the U.S. and is critical for the futures of transgender youth across the state. We will not rest until this unconstitutional law is struck down.”
The challenge filed today is the eighth legal challenge by the ACLU and its nationwide affiliate network so far against a wave of bans targeting health care for transgender youth. The ACLU and the ACLU of Arkansas filed the first such challenge against the first such law in the country in 2021 and similar challenges have been filed in Indiana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Montana, Kentucky, and Nebraska.
U.S. Federal Courts
Southern Utah Drag Stars file lawsuit over drag show permit denial
Plaintiffs argue City of St. George unlawfully discriminated against them in violation of their rights under the U.S. & Utah constitutions
ST. GEORGE, Utah — Today, the Southern Utah Drag Stars (Drag Stars) filed a lawsuit against the city of St. George, Utah, which denied the organization a special events permit for a family-friendly drag show.
The city’s refusal to grant a permit is part of a years-long effort to target drag performances and LGBTQ+ pride events in violation of the First and 14th Amendments, as well as the Utah Constitution. Legal counsel intends to seek a preliminary injunction to allow Drag Stars to host its family-friendly drag show in June.
On March 3, Mitski Avalōx applied for a City of St. George special events permit to host a family-friendly drag event, Allies & Community Drag Show Festival, at J.C. Snow Park. A few weeks later, the city denied her application, alleging that she violated its advertising ordinance, an obscure local rule which prohibits advertising for special events until the city grants a permit.
The advertising ordinance was not routinely enforced, in part because it is unworkable – permits are typically not issued until the day of or the day before events, making advertising an event practically impossible.
Drag Stars appealed the city’s permit denial and at the hearing at least one city council member acknowledged that the advertising ban is not enforceable, but the city nonetheless denied Drag Stars’ appeal
To make matters worse, while Avalōx’s application was pending, St. George decided to suspend considering any new special event permits for six months, denying Drag Stars the opportunity to submit a new permit application after the initial rejection.
The city later exempted “city sponsored” events from the six month ban on new permit applications, creating a scheme whereby city officials selectively grant permits to favored events while denying all others. St. George’s special events policies discriminate against drag performances and are so opaque that no one can know what is allowed and what is not.
“Requiring drag performers to meet unreasonable standards to receive a permit, or denying them these permits without legitimate justification, is censorship,” said Valentina De Fex, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Utah. “Our lawsuit challenges the attempt by elected officials, who must uphold the rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and Utah State Constitution, to push subjective viewpoints of what they deem appropriate.” Regarding the impact of this case, De Fex stated, “With this filing we continue our commitment to stop efforts to discriminate against and silence LGBTQ+ and gender-diverse individuals in Utah.”
“Drag is dance, fashion, and music — it is also deeply rooted in political speech — all protected by the First Amendment,” said Emerson Sykes, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “This is the latest offense in a larger pattern of attacks discriminating against gender-diverse and LGBTQ+ people and their rights in Utah and throughout the country.”
Just last year, lawmakers in six states proposed bills to ban drag. Under some of these bills, a business would be considered a “sexually oriented enterprise” – and therefore be subject to strict zoning requirements and fees – just for letting female comedians wear pants or male magicians grow their hair out. Drag performers and host venues across the country have had no choice but to move to higher security or cancel performances altogether.
Governmental attempts to restrict drag performances claim to protect children from so-called obscene material. However, drag is not obscene, and restricting access to a supportive community only causes more harm to trans and LGBTQ+ youth, who are already at a higher risk of depression and suicide.
“The city of St. George is violating the First Amendment rights of Drag Stars and discriminating against them through a façade of permits and ordinances that have never been applied in this manner with any other group or organization,” said Jeremy Creelan, Partner at Jenner & Block. “LGBTQ+ performers are entitled to protections under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and we are asking the court to protect these fundamental rights and put a stop to this deeply troubling attack on free expression.”
U.S. Federal Courts
ACLU to file lawsuit against Texas trans youth healthcare ban
Bans like SB14 are opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, & the American Academy of Pediatrics
AUSTIN, Texas – Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, and Transgender Law Center today pledged to file a lawsuit against a sweeping new law banning transgender youth from accessing medically necessary health care that the Texas Legislature passed today.
Texas Senate Bill 14 bans the only evidence-based care for gender dysphoria for transgender people under 18 and aims to strip doctors of their medical licenses for providing their patients with the care they know to be medically necessary. Texas lawmakers have ignored the warnings of transgender youth, their families, and the medical establishment about the harms of this law. Similar restrictions in Alabama and Arkansas have been enjoined by federal courts, and legal advocates have filed challenges in federal court to bans enacted in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Montana. A state court judge in Missouri recently blocked enforcement of the Missouri attorney general’s emergency order blocking the provision of gender-affirming care.
The LGBTQ legal advocates today issued the following joint statement:
“We will be filing a lawsuit to protect transgender youth in Texas from being stripped of access to health care that keeps them healthy and alive. Coming on top of the effort last year to classify providing medically necessary and scientifically proven care to transgender youth as child abuse and threatening to tear Texas families with transgender children apart, an effort currently blocked in state court, Texas lawmakers have seen fit to double down.
“They are hellbent on joining the growing roster of states determined to jeopardize the health and lives of transgender youth, in direct opposition to the overwhelming body of scientific and medical evidence supporting this care as appropriate and necessary. Transgender youth in Texas deserve the support and care necessary to give them the same chance to thrive as their peers. Medically necessary health care is a critical part of helping transgender adolescents succeed in school, establish healthy relationships with their friends and family, and live authentically as themselves. We will defend the rights of transgender youth in court, just as we have done in other states engaging in this anti-science and discriminatory fear-mongering.”
U.S. Federal Courts
ACLU challenges Mississippi high school over trans grad’s dress
ACLU Challenges Mississippi High School’s Refusal to Let Transgender Student Wear Dress to Graduation Ceremony
JACKSON, Miss. — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi have filed a lawsuit against Harrison County School District (HCSD) after school officials told a graduating transgender student she could not wear a dress or heeled shoes to her graduating ceremony as requested by her and her parents.
L.B. is a transgender girl and graduating senior of the class of 2023 at Harrison Central High School. She has been looking forward to finally walking across the stage at her high school graduation this Saturday, May 20, and picked out a dress and pair of heeled shoes months ago to wear under her traditional cap and gown in accordance with the school’s dress code for female students. On May 9, L.B. and her parents were informed by Principal Kelly Fuller that the school would enforce the male dress code against L.B. In a call with L.B.’s mother, Harrison County School District Superintendent Mitchell King said that L.B. “needs to wear pants, socks, and shoes like a boy” in statements that repeatedly misgendered her.
The superintendent cited a written dress code policy, distributed last week, that requires girls to wear white dresses and boys to wear black suits. There is no reported enforcement of this policy against students who are not transgender and school officials have not taken any steps to check the planned outfits for other students.
“My graduation is supposed to be a moment of pride and celebration and school officials want to turn it into a moment of humiliation and shame,” said L.B., a senior at Harrison Central High School. “The clothing I’ve chosen is fully appropriate for the ceremony and the superintendent’s objections to it are entirely unfair to myself, my family, and all transgender students like me. I have the right to celebrate my graduation as who I am, not who anyone else wants me to be.”
“It’s deeply offensive the school would choose to take a celebration of our daughter and her accomplishments and attempt to ruin it with such discriminatory action,” said Samantha, mother of L.B. “Like any parent of a graduating senior, we’re eager to see L.B. cross this critical threshold and enter a new stage of her life, but the superintendent is threatening this once-in-a-lifetime moment for our family. We’re so proud of our daughter and are determined to protect her from this baseless attack on her rights and her identity.”
“L.B. should be focused on celebrating this important milestone alongside her peers; however, this targeted attack by the leaders of the Harrison County School District seeks to strip her of her right to celebrate this occasion as her true self,” said McKenna Raney-Gray, staff attorney at the ACLU of Mississippi. “While we are deeply disappointed in the conduct of the Harrison County School District, we remain committed to defending the rights and autonomy of trans youth across the state, and hope that the court agrees that all students in Mississippi have the right to live as their authentic selves.”
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court, seeks an immediate temporary restraining order allowing L.B. to wear her chosen outfit.
The complaint can be found here and TRO motion can be found here.
U.S. Federal Courts
Parents file emergency order to block Florida trans youth care ban
Families added a challenge to SB 254 to pending lawsuit against the bans issued by the state’s Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine
TALLAHASSEE – Three Florida parents have asked a federal court to issue a temporary restraining order immediately blocking enforcement of SB 254, which Governor DeSantis signed into law Wednesday.
The families, who have a pending challenge to the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine rules banning established medical care for their children and other transgender adolescents are also challenging provisions in SB 254 that codify those rules into state law, add criminal and civil penalties, and create additional barriers for families with transgender adolescents.
Advocates for the families will be in court on Friday to argue their motions to temporarily block the Boards of Medicine rules and the healthcare ban provisions in SB 254 so that they can get their children urgently needed medical care as the case continues.
The families are represented by Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Human Rights Campaign, which issued the following statement:
This is a state of emergency for Florida parents, who are already being forced to watch their kids suffer rather than get them the safe and effective healthcare they need and that will allow them to thrive. Today, Governor DeSantis doubled down on the nightmare created by the Florida Boards of Medicine rules by signing SB 254 into law.
This law ignores science, unconstitutionally inserts the state into family privacy and parental decision-making, deliberately provokes family conflict by inviting challenges to established custody orders, and tramples on the rights and wellbeing of transgender adolescents.
We are asking the court to take swift action to block the ban on access to essential healthcare in SB 254, as well as the Boards of Medicine bans, to stop further harm to transgender youth and their families while the plaintiffs’ case continues.
U.S. Federal Courts
Rep. George Santos indicted on 13 federal criminal counts
Santos & an unnamed “political consultant” illegally redirected campaign donations to cover personal expenses like “luxury designer clothing”
WASHINGTON – Republican U.S. Rep. George Santos (N.Y.) was indicted Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York on 13 criminal counts of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and making false statements.
The congressman is expected to be arraigned later today. For several months, investigators from multiple law enforcement agencies have been looking into allegations that he violated campaign finance laws and committed other financial crimes.
Beginning shortly after Santos took office, news reports revealed that he had lied about vast swaths of his life and career, fabricated stories – claiming, for example, to have survived an assassination attempt – and engaged in various schemes.
Wednesday’s indictment alleges that Santos and an unnamed “political consultant” illegally redirected donations that were supposed to support his Congressional race to instead cover personal expenses like “luxury designer clothing and credit card payments.”
The charging documents also accuse Santos of falsely claiming to be unemployed to pocket $20,304 in unemployment insurance benefits from the state of New York and $24,744 from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act while he was actually working for a Florida investment firm, earning an annual $120,000 salary.
Additionally, prosecutors say Santos lied on federal disclosure documents required for every member of Congress.
Calls for Santos’s expulsion from Congress were renewed with the news of Wednesday’s indictment.
“That’s something for the House conference to decide on,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during Wednesday’s briefing. “They want to show the American people what their conference looks like; that’s up to them.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.) said, “there is there is one person who can make this change: Speaker McCarthy.”
“It’s just an unfortunate thing that that we’re all colleagues together, and this level of fraud that’s been perpetrated on the people of New York,” Aguilar added.
For his part, McCarthy told CNN Santos “will go through his time in trial, and let’s find out how the outcome is,” while Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority leader, made similar comments during a press conference, telling reporters: “In America, there’s a presumption of innocence, but they’re serious charges. He’s going to have to go through the legal process.”
Santos, 34, was released from custody following his arraignment at a Long Island federal courthouse, about five hours after he surrendered to authorities, The Associated Press reported.
The New York Times noted that his lawyer discussed his intent to seek re-election as part of the bail setting and said that he would need the ability to leave the state “to engage in that election activity.”
The judge permitted additional travel, so long as Santos received prior authorization from court officials. Santos was released on the $500,000 bond secured by three individuals, whose identities are not public. He will be confined to New York, Washington, D.C., and places in between.
Facing reporters in a press conference after the afternoon hearing on the steps of the courthouse at 100 Federal Plaza in Central Islip on Long Island, Santos said: “It’s a witch hunt because it makes no sense that in four months, four months — five months, I’m indicted.” The embattled congressman then tried to deflect by comparing his legal difficulties to the Hunter Biden investigation which prompted onlookers to boo him.
Media Matters senior researcher Jason S. Campbell captured a portion of the video and tweeted it:
George Santos: "It's a witch hunt because it makes no sense that in four months, four months — five months, I'm indicted" [boos follow] pic.twitter.com/rzqBgrVT3s— Jason S. Campbell (@JasonSCampbell) May 10, 2023
Journalist Aaron Rupar also tweeted portions of the press conference:
"It's a witch hunt" — George Santos— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 10, 2023
Santos is then booed when he tries some Hunter Biden whataboutism pic.twitter.com/i2LSurGJKV
George Santos: "I appreciate everybody's patience with my presence in Congress" pic.twitter.com/OKuj449kxy— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 10, 2023
"This has been an experience for a book, or something like that" — Santos is already thinking ahead pic.twitter.com/DgRTODay2I— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 10, 2023
Read the indictment here: (link)
U.S. Federal Courts
GOP Rep. George Santos charged by Justice Department in probe
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will look at the charges before determining if he thinks Santos should be removed from Congress
NEW YORK – Federal prosecutors have charged Out New York U.S. Representative George Santos with criminal violations of federal statutes.
Originally reported by CNN Tuesday, the exact nature of the charges couldn’t immediately be learned but the FBI and the Justice Department public integrity prosecutors in New York and Washington have been examining allegations of false statements in Santos’ campaign finance filings and other claims.
CNN also reported that the congressman’s attorney declined to comment. Spokespeople for the Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office, the Justice Department and the FBI also declined to comment.
Congressman Santos is expected to appear as soon as Wednesday at the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Courthouse in the civic center of Brooklyn, where the charges have been filed under seal.
Santos has been under fire for months after a series of exposés revealed the congressman has lied about virtually every aspect of his biography. Additionally, a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center alleges a wide scope of campaign finance law violations by the openly gay freshman lawmaker and his 2022 campaign committee, Devolder-Santos for Congress.
Allegations of campaign financial malfeasance is thought to have triggered the federal probe by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York and the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee on announced in March that it had voted unanimously to open an investigation of Santos over the allegations of financial and an incident of sexual misconduct.
The subcommittee’s inquiry will evaluate whether the embattled congressman’s required financial disclosures as a candidate contained illegal omissions or conflicts of interest, as well as an allegation by an applicant to his congressional office that Santos made unwanted sexual advances towards him.
U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he will look at the charges before determining if he thinks Santos should be removed from Congress.
“I’ll look at the charges,” the California Republican told CNN on Tuesday.
U.S. Federal Courts
ACLU & Lambda Legal sue Oklahoma over trans healthcare ban
The law now makes it a felony for physicians to provide trans youth with treatments that can include puberty-blocking drugs and hormones
TULSA – In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, Lambda Legal, and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP are challenging a new law criminalizing age-appropriate medical care for transgender adolescents signed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt Monday.
Stitt signed Senate Bill 613, a law that will result in criminal penalties for medical professionals providing gender-affirming healthcare for minor patients. The law now makes it a felony for physicians to provide trans youth with treatments that can include puberty-blocking drugs and hormones.
With Stitt’s signature, Oklahoma became the 16th state to ban trans youth from gender-affirming healthcare: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia.
In Alabama and Arkansas, federal judges have issued injunctions blocking enforcement of those state’s laws. In Missouri on Monday, Attorney General Andrew Bailey is still blocked from enforcing an emergency rule limiting gender-affirming care after a St. Louis County circuit court judge granted a 14-day temporary restraining order.
In the lawsuit, a group of families with transgender adolescents and medical providers who support trans youth assert SB 613 unjustly and unfairly targets them and gender-affirming health care in violation of their rights under Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
In September 2022, Oklahoma state legislators threatened to withhold COVID relief funding from Oklahoma University hospitals if they did not end their program supporting transgender youth. In March 2023, the Oklahoma legislature censured Rep. Mauree Turner, the state’s only openly nonbinary lawmaker.
Such restrictions are opposed by leading medical experts and organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the Williams Institute of UCLA, there are an estimated 2,600 transgender youth ages 13-17 in Oklahoma.
“Every Oklahoman should have the freedom to access the care they need to survive and thrive, but once again, instead of deciding to boldly lead our state, Governor Stitt and members of the legislator have decided to risk the lives of one of our most vulnerable populations, to score political points with their base,” said Megan Lambert, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director. “Oklahoma consistently ushers in the bottom of almost every list nationwide, from education and incarceration to healthcare and privacy, but lawmakers choose to spend their time pushing dangerous rhetoric on topics they know nothing about and attacking transgender children, instead of addressing the real issues Oklahomans face day to day. We all deserve the freedom to control our bodies and seek the healthcare we need, including gender-affirming care. The ACLU of Oklahoma and our partners have warned lawmakers that we will take swift action on any ban on gender-affirming care signed into law, and today is the day we make good on that promise.”
“This law is a dangerous attack on the rights of families and their transgender youth who call Oklahoma home,” said Harper Seldin, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project. “Governor Stitt and the politicians targeting trans youth have ignored the voices of parents, medical providers, and transgender youth themselves, instead choosing to put their politics between doctors and their patients. We’re confident the state will find itself completely incapable of defending this law in court and welcome the opportunity to fight for the safety, dignity, and equality of trans Oklahomans.”
“Based on nothing but animus towards transgender people and a campaign of misinformation and disinformation, Oklahoma officials have decided to prohibit the provision of necessary, safe, and effective evidence-based medical care for trans adolescents in Oklahoma. These actions risk the health, well-being, and very lives of trans youth in the Sooner State,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Counsel and Health Care Strategist at Lambda Legal. “We will not stand idly by as discriminatory laws endanger our community. Trans youth in Oklahoma and elsewhere deserve no less. We are proud to represent, alongside our co-counsel, these five courageous families and a caring doctor, who together are standing up for their rights.”
“SB 613 is an unconstitutional law that singles out transgender adolescents and discriminates against them and their families by banning necessary medical care and treatment,” said Laurie Edelstein, a partner at Jenner & Block. “We are asking the court to block enforcement of SB 613 and protect the fundamental rights of transgender adolescents and their families to access appropriate medical treatment so that transgender adolescents have the same opportunity as their peers to thrive in their families, with their friends, in school, and in their communities.”
U.S. Federal Courts
Justice Dept sues Tenn. over law banning Trans youth healthcare
“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status” said Assistant AG Kristen Clarke
WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today filed a complaint challenging Tennessee Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), a recently enacted law that denies necessary medical care to youth based solely on who they are.
The complaint alleges that SB 1’s ban on providing certain medically necessary care to transgender minors violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The department is also asking the court to issue an immediate order to prevent the law from going into effect on July 1, 2023.
SB 1 makes it unlawful to provide or offer to provide certain types of medical care for transgender minors with diagnosed gender dysphoria. SB 1’s blanket ban prohibits potential treatment options that have been recommended by major medical associations for consideration in limited circumstances in accordance with established and comprehensive guidelines and standards of care.
By denying only transgender youth access to these forms of medically necessary care while allowing non-transgender minors access to the same or similar procedures, SB 1 discriminates against transgender youth.
The department’s complaint alleges that SB 1 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discriminating on the basis of both sex and transgender status. Doctors, parents and anyone else who provides or offers to provide the prohibited care faces the possibility of civil suits for 30 years and other sanctions.
“No person should be denied access to necessary medical care just because of their transgender status,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The right to consider your health and medically-approved treatment options with your family and doctors is a right that everyone should have, including transgender children, who are especially vulnerable to serious risks of depression, anxiety and suicide. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department will continue to aggressively challenge all forms of discrimination and unlawful barriers faced by the LGBTQI+ community.”
“SB1 violates the constitutional rights of some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens,” said U.S. Attorney Henry Leventis for the Middle District of Tennessee. “Left unchallenged, it would prohibit transgender children from receiving health care that their medical providers and their parents have determined to be medically necessary. In doing so, the law seeks to substitute the judgment of trained medical professionals and parents with that of elected officials and codifies discrimination against children who already face far too many obstacles.”
Today’s filings are the latest action by the Justice Department to combat LGBTQI+ discrimination, including unlawful restrictions on medical care for transgender youth.
On March 31, 2022, Assistant Attorney General Clarke issued a letter to all state attorneys general reminding them of federal constitutional and statutory provisions that protect transgender youth against discrimination.
On April 29, 2022, the Justice Department intervened in a lawsuit challenging a law in Alabama (Senate Bill 184) that imposes a felony ban on medically necessary care for transgender minors. As a result of that litigation, the most significant provisions of Alabama’s Senate Bill 184 have been preliminarily halted from going into effect, and the United States continues to challenge its constitutionality.
U.S. Federal Courts
Disney sues DeSantis, says he orchestrated government retaliation
‘Disney is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members […] from a relentless campaign to weaponize government”
TALLAHASSEE – Attorneys for Walt Disney Parks & Resorts US Inc. in a 77 page filing Wednesday, sued Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis over what the company alleges is a “targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”
Disney had expressed opposition to the anti-LGBTQ+ ‘Parental Rights in Education bill’ the governor signed into law a year ago, which opponents have labeled as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
In response to DeSantis signing H.B. 1557, titled “Parental Rights in Education,” into law a spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company had issued a statement condemning the legislation.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
DeSantis accused Disney of imposing a “woke ideology” and warned that it’ll “destroy” the United States if left “unabated.”
Speaking to reporters at the state capitol DeSantis ranted: “For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think one was fundamentally dishonest, but two, I think that crossed the line.”
The governor added: “This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of Florida, it is not based on the demands of California corporate executives. They do not run this state, they do not control this state.”
The battlelines were drawn and over this past year, DeSantis and his allies have escalated the attacks on the media conglomerate. In mid April of 2022, the governor announced that he had expanded the special session of the state legislature to include eliminating the 1967 law that allows the Walt Disney World Resort property to operate as a self-governing body.
The bill that would dissolve Walt Disney World’s 55-year-old self-government by June of 2023 was given final passage by Florida’s Republican-controlled state legislature that would eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney self-government is known in late April of 2022.
In May, a trio of Central Florida residents who live near the Walt Disney Resort filed suit Tuesday in federal court, claiming that the Republican Governor Ron DeSantis violated the rights of the state’s taxpayers with passage of the anti-Disney law that stripped the media conglomerate of its special self-governing status.
Michael Foronda, Edward Foronda and Vivian Gorsky filed an 11 page complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, that alleges that the law signed by DeSantis at the end of April eliminating the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney self-government is known, will burden them and other Floridan taxpayers with Disney’s bond debt which is estimated at more than $1 billion.
3 weeks ago as the public feud between DeSantis and Disney raged on, Disney invoked a rare legal clause.
Before DeSantis could replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District board of supervisors, that Disney-allied panel signed a long-lasting development agreement that drastically limits his control. The former Reedy Creek Development board signed its power back to the Disney company before leaving office, a binding declaration that doesn’t expire until England’s monarchy dies out.
CNBC reported: “On Feb. 8, the day before the Florida House voted to put DeSantis in charge, the previous Disney-allied board signed a long-lasting development agreement that drastically limits the control that can be exercised over the company and its district.
As part of a 30-year development agreement, Disney no longer needs board approval to build high-density projects or buildings of any height and can sell or assign development rights. It also bans the board from using Disney’s name or any of its characters.”
To thwart the Florida Governor’s hand-picked appointed board, the agreement included an obscure but legal “royal clause dating back to the reign of William III, also widely known as William of Orange, in 1692 which would extend its term limit for decades.
This “Declaration shall continue in effect until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration,” the document said.
When the governor replaced all of the Disney-allied board members with five Republicans on Feb. 27, it was only then that Disney’s new binding agreement was discovered. The clause was so obscure that several journalists who attended a Feb. 8 meeting apparently didn’t pick up on it.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” Ron Peri, one of the new board members appointed to the CFTOD by DeSantis, said at the Feb. 27 meeting. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”
CNN reported that DeSantis’ political allies overseeing Disney’s special taxing district threatened last week to hike taxes, raise utility rates and develop land around the entertainment giant’s Central Florida theme parks as retribution for the company’s efforts to avoid a state takeover.
In a meeting full of harsh words for one of the state’s largest private employers, board members accused Disney of engaging in a covert, yet legally flawed attempt to take over the district’s powers and thwart DeSantis’ power grab and vowed it would not stand.
“It really is shameful what Disney tried to do,” board chairman Martin Garcia said.
The comments echoed recent criticism from DeSantis, who on Monday vowed swift punishment against Disney and suggested a prison or competing theme park could be built on the land around the company’s vast Orlando-area footprint.
In the court filing, Disney attorney’s made note of the governor’s threat: “The Governor
recently declared that his team would not only “void the development agreement”—just as they did today—but also planned “to look at things like taxes on the hotels,” “tolls on the roads,” “developing some of the property that the district owns” with “more amusement parks,” and even putting a “state prison” next to Walt Disney World. “Who knows? I just think the possibilities are endless,” he said.”
The company expressed that it had enough of the governor’s threats, actions, and using the state government as a weapon directed at it: ” Disney regrets that it has come to this. But having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.”
In a news conference in Israel Thursday where he is on an economic development junket, DeSantis criticized the move by Disney: “I don’t think the suit has merit, I think it’s political,” he told reporters.
“They had no transparency, no accountability, none of that, and that arrangement was not good for the state of Florida. We did not think that that should continue, so we now have brought accountability,” the governor added.
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