A Bishop In The Exam Room: When Faith Dictates Health Care Instead Of Science

A number of folks in Humboldt County have expressed complaints about our local hospital, but they should be thankful for the secular hospital we have available to serve our population. Given the merger-mania in corporate America, we could be facing, like so many other communities, a takeover of our hospital by Catholic Hospitals of America and the imposition of OBGYN-lite policies, restricting the availability of reproductive healthcare services to women throughout the hospital’s service area.

Here’s a post an article from ThinkProgress that will walk you through how religious institutions are imposing their religious beliefs on women through the limited care they’re willing to provide, essentially elevating their religious rights at the expense of any patient’s rights.


CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

— by Erica Helerstein and Josh Israel

When Rita, a Michigan-based OB-GYN, learned that the hospital where she worked would be switching hands, she was dismayed.

The secular community hospital, Crittenton, had plans to join with Ascension Health, a prominent Catholic nonprofit hospital chain. Rita, who asked that her real name be withheld to protect her identity, knew the transition would profoundly impact her ability to do her job the way she saw fit. The OB-GYN specifically wanted to work at a place where she could practice the full scope of reproductive care, from preventing pregnancy to delivering babies. But now, with the hospital merger looming in the not-so-distant future, that possibility seemed increasingly unlikely.

Rita also understood the change in leadership meant that her patients’ medical options would be limited. That’s because Catholic hospitals follow a set of rules written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which often prohibit doctors from performing basic reproductive services — like contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, abortion — and end-of-life care.

Although Rita knew certain services at the hospital would soon be banned, many of her patients had no idea. They also may not have known that mergers like Crittenton’s are becoming increasingly common.

As hospitals throughout the country struggle with financial woes, many have begun to merge with Catholic systems in order to stay in business. This means a growing number of patients are winding up in institutions guided by religious doctrine. Between 2001 and 2016, the number of hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church increased by 22 percent. Today, one in six patients in the U.S. is cared for at a Catholic hospital — a troubling trend for health care providers like Rita, who worry that patients are increasingly being placed in centers that provide services based on faith rather than medical necessity.

“I do think as more places are being purchased by Catholic systems it’s going to become more of a problem,” she told ThinkProgress. “To take away the ability to provide services that people need or desire… I think it’s very upsetting both for an OB-GYN and also for a woman. Having those choices gives you the ability to participate in society.”

Rita found another job before the Catholic system moved in. Although she says her decision to leave Crittenton was based on other factors, she admits she probably would have sought employment elsewhere even if those reasons hadn’t come up. Before Rita departed from the hospital, though, she warned her patients about what was to come — and encouraged them to get their tubes tied before it was too late.

As Rita was advising her patients to move forward with their procedures, organizers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan were trying to gin up support for a campaign opposing the Crittenton merger. In June, they arranged an event at a public library in a nearby town to talk about what the shift in leadership would mean for community members. But only six people showed up. “It was so hard for us to connect to anyone who cared,” said Merissa Kovach, a field organizer in charge of the campaign.

The struggle to engage people who could be directly impacted by Crittenton’s transition might not be entirely surprising given the demographic makeup of Rochester, which is predominantly white, conservative-leaning, and upper-middle class. But it suggests another problem that Kovach and others have been struggling to address: A widespread lack of awareness about a conflict that’s quietly brewing in the health care industry. It’s a trend that has managed to accelerate rapidly and yet evade public scrutiny. Because Catholic hospitals aren’t required to disclose their religious affiliation or talk about the limited medical services they may offer, many patients wind up in the dark — and don’t think about the hierarchies that govern their care until it’s too late.

In Rochester, for example, the two systems merged without much of a fuss. But just a few days after Ascension took over the hospital in October 2015, its official website changed ever so slightly. “Tubal ligations” were removed from the list of available services.

CatholicHospitalData-before-after6

The role of Catholics in health care is nothing new — indeed, throughout the Middle Ages, it was the Catholic Church that created hospitals and hospices for the old and ill in an attempt to follow Jesus’ teachings about healing the sick. Many of the earliest hospitals in America were set up by Ursuline sisters and other Catholic orders dedicated to serving the poor. About 75 Catholic hospitals had been established in the U.S. by 1875.

But there has been a particular boom in the number of Catholic hospitals since the beginning of the 21st century, according to a groundbreaking 2013 report on the growth of Catholic hospitals and health systems by MergerWatch, a patients’ rights organization that tracks hospital mergers, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). In 2001, about 8.2 percent of the nation’s acute care hospitals were Catholic nonprofits. By 2011, that number had jumped to 10.1 percent. This increase coincided with notable drops in the numbers of other nonprofit hospitals and public hospitals.

This trend is accelerating among all hospital chains, too, and not just nonprofits. A recently released 2016 update found that 14.5 percent of all acute care hospitals are now Catholic-owned or affiliated (up from 11.2 percent in 2001) and that four of the nation’s 10 largest hospital systems are Catholic-sponsored. Some of the growth is the result of new Catholic hospitals opening their doors — but many were the result of secular hospitals merging with Catholic systems, bringing them under the Catholic hospitals umbrella.

But while Lois Uttley, MergerWatch’s director, believes Catholic hospitals do deliver “excellent care” in many treatment areas, she and her group are working to shine a light on a major exception. They believe Catholic hospitals prevent many women from getting the reproductive health care they need — even procedures that are medically necessary — ultimately putting them in an untenable situation once they walk through the doors of one of these religious facilities.

Once a hospital elects to merge with the Catholic system, it agrees to obey a set of directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Called the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” (ERDs), these rules include instructions that Catholic care “should distinguish itself by service to and advocacy for those people whose social condition puts them at the margins of our society and makes them particularly vulnerable to discrimination: the poor; the uninsured and the underinsured; children and the unborn; single parents; the elderly; those with incurable diseases and chemical dependencies; racial minorities; immigrants and refugees.”

Although these large Catholic hospital systems operate in accordance with religious values and doctrine, they aren’t directly funded or controlled by the Catholic Church. As Uttley put it, “they are not being funded by the envelope my mother used to put in the collection basket every Sunday.”

Instead, as tax-exempt nonprofit corporations, they are funded through a combination of private insurance reimbursement, Medicare and Medicaid payments, and sometimes government grants, according to Uttley.

By bringing many hospitals together into large Catholic health systems, they can cut costs through shared administration and joint purchasing, offering protection to hospitals in rural states where isolated health care facilities often struggle. “It’s to their credit, they’ve kept these hospitals operating in very challenging times,” she said.

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CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

But the directives also include prohibitions on abortion, even when a woman’s health is at risk; assistance with surrogacy; egg and sperm donation; contraception; and temporary or permanent sterilization, with few — if any — exceptions. And the condoning of or participation in euthanasia or assisted suicide “in any way” is expressly verboten for all who work at a Catholic health care institution. MergerWatch, the ACLU, and the handful of other organizations that track this issue believe these directives often mean even procedures needed to mitigate serious health risk to the patient are unavailable at a Catholic hospital.

The groups also pointed to a troubling lack of transparency: Because Catholic hospitals often choose not to disclose which services are not offered, patients don’t always realize they operate any differently from a secular institution.

Proponents of the Catholic hospital system say the distinction should already be obvious to patients given the facilities’ religious presentation. As the attorney for one Catholic hospital in California that refuses to perform tubal ligation argued in a lawsuit earlier this year, “no one is lacking for understanding that this is a Catholic hospital, from the crucifix in the front entrance to everything about it.”

But that’s not necessarily how providers see it. Nancy, a physician who provided services at Rochester’s Crittenton before the merger and continues to do so today, said the now-Catholic hospital is presented to the public as a secular institution with no disclosure of its restrictions. “I think it is incredibly difficult to understand what limits we have available,” said Nancy, who asked that her real name be withheld because she is still practicing in the field, noting that the names of Catholic hospitals don’t always reveal their religious affiliation. “It’s not Saint Crittenton. It’s not Mary of Christ Crittenton. It’s just Crittenton.”

Ascension and Crittenton did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about their practices. A spokesperson for the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals and facilities nationwide, said his group “encourages transparency from Catholic hospitals regarding the services they do and do not offer.”

But Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, says in practice, that transparency is often absent — putting patients in potentially perilous situations when they’re in urgent need of care.

“The hospital closest to you might be Catholic, you might not know it, you might not think to ask these questions until [you’re facing] an emergency situation or far along in a pregnancy,” she said.

Rachel Miller found herself in that exact situation when she was a patient at Mercy hospital in Redding, California in 2015. Miller, who was pregnant with her second child, was certain she didn’t want to have more kids: In 2013, she had an emergency C-section for her first daughter, and knew she would have to repeat the procedure for the birth of her second child. After she discussed her options with her OB-GYN, she decided a tubal ligation made the most sense — she could get it right after delivering her baby and it wouldn’t require an additional hospitalization.

Miller sent a request to Mercy for the procedure, and assumed it would be approved. Instead, she received a letter back stating Mercy would be unable to accommodate her, citing the Catholic bishops’ directives.

Miller had never heard of the directives before — in fact, she had no idea that the standard of care at Mercy would be any different than what was available at a secular hospital. “I guess if someone had asked me at the time, ‘is this a Catholic hospital?’ I would have said yes, because it’s Mercy, normally a Mercy hospital is Catholic,” she told ThinkProgress. “But I had never thought about it. And as far as Catholic hospitals in general and having ERDs, I had never thought about that either.”

Miller was sure she wanted to get her tubes tied, but after Mercy’s rejection, she found that her options were limited. Redding has only one hospital with a labor and delivery department and the nearest hospital Miller could find that took her insurance was some 160 miles away. That was out of the question — Miller knew she would have to stay at the hospital for several days, and she didn’t want to be away from her toddler for that long. Mercy — the largest hospital provider in California — was her only option, and they just wouldn’t budge.

That was especially concerning to Elizabeth Gill, an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California who later took up Miller’s case. “It’s troubling that your access to health care in such a significant degree in a state like California is dictated by the moral code that corporations subscribe to, especially given that these are entities that are largely state and federally funded,” she said.

The predicament Miller found herself in is becoming increasingly common.

For many patients, Catholic hospitals are now so ubiquitous they may be the closest or only option for care. According to MergerWatch’s most recent report, more than 40 percent of the acute care beds in Alaska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington, and South Dakota are in Catholic-owned or affiliated hospitals, and more than 45 Catholic hospitals in the country provide the only acute care in their geographic region. Naturally, this impacts the services available to patients. As Miller experienced, the bishops’ guidelines often prevent doctors from performing tubal ligations after patients deliver, which is the safest time for the procedure.

Moreover, as the National Women’s Law Center noted in a complaint to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, many Catholic hospitals don’t follow the medical standards of care for what’s known as “miscarriage management,” often by denying services to women experiencing pregnancy complications before viability or in the middle of a miscarriage.

Tamesha Means was 18 weeks pregnant when she showed up at a Mercy hospital in Michigan in December 2010. Her water had broken prematurely. Hospital staff examined Means, but neglected to tell her that the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of survival — and in fact posed a risk to her health if she continued to carry it. Means was sent home, but she returned the next day as her bleeding and cramps intensified. Again, she was instructed to go home. Means returned for a third time that night — visibly in pain and showing signs of an infection. The hospital prepared to send her home once again, but stopped when she started delivering. The baby died shortly thereafter, and the hospital staff told Means to prepare funeral arrangements.

The ACLU took on the case, arguing that the directives prevented hospital staff from informing Means of the risk of the pregnancy and directly placed her in harm’s way. “Because of the Directives, MHP did not inform Ms. Means that, due to her condition, the fetus she was carrying had virtually no chance of surviving, and continuing her pregnancy would pose a serious risk to her health,” the lawsuit claimed. As a result, “Ms. Means suffered severe, unnecessary, and foreseeable physical and emotional pain.”
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CatholicHospitalData-02v2
CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

The restrictions on care don’t present a burden for patients alone — working within the system can also weigh heavily on providers who are prevented from performing the full range of medical care they expected to practice as an OB-GYN. According to a 2012 national survey, more than 50 percent of OB-GYNs who work at Catholic hospitals said they’ve run into conflicts with their institutions over the directives. Dr. Didi Saint Louis, a physician in the Southeast who completed her medical residency at a Catholic hospital, is familiar with that tension herself. She remembered seeing a patient who fell extremely ill at an early stage in a nonviable pregnancy. Saint Louis was prohibited from terminating the pregnancy — even though the fetus would not survive — and ended up transferring the patient to another hospital.

“I remember our director riding in the ambulance with the patient, she went straight to the operating room, they terminated the pregnancy, and she was fine,” she recalled. “But it could have gone so many different ways. And while the Catholic hospitals strive to give the best standard of care, this is one area where I think they fall short.”

The impact of a hospital merger can be much more profound for people living in geographically isolated regions without easily accessible alternatives. According to MergerWatch, there are 46 hospitals nationally that provide the only short-term acute care for people in their region, leaving people who lack transportation and travel resources with few alternative options.

Nancy, the physician from Michigan who works with Ascension, says she’s fortunate to be in a region with more than one hospital. “I’m in an area in which my patients can commute or get to a different location, so people in more remote areas are stuck without that,” she said. “Which is a really disturbing trend.”

About 2,000 miles west of Rochester, a Catholic hospital merger brought a very different outcome. In Washington, a battle was waged over the fate of Vashon Island’s only health clinic. Vashon, a quirky island community near Seattle, is home to about 11,000 people, 45 miles of shoreline, and an unofficial mayor who was re-elected in 2015 over a goat named Bandit. It is a Democratic bastion: Mitt Romney received a mere 18.6 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections, to Barack Obama’s 77.6 percent.

In 2012, Mark Benedum, the CEO of the island’s health clinic, announced the board had decided that, due to financial struggles, the time had come “to explore the benefits of joining a larger system.” It reached an agreement to become an affiliate of Franciscan Health System, a chain of Catholic health facilities and part of the behemoth Catholic Health Initiatives.

Benedum initially claimed patients’ options would be unaffected by this union, insisting, “it’s not going to change a thing.”

Vashon’s residents weren’t so sure. A group of skeptics, calling itself Vashon HealthWatch, worried that the island’s sole clinic would now be forced to adhere to the bishops’ directives — and that their care would be limited as a result. After consulting with MergerWatch, they organized a massive town hall meeting where members of the community could question Franciscan and Highline leadership.

On April 25, 2013, weeks after the Franciscan’s purchase of the clinic was complete, about two hundred people packed the multipurpose room at one of the the island’s schools, according to Kate Hunter, who helped organized the event. It was a far cry from the sparsely attended event that took place in Michigan. And not only did people show up, but they’d read the directives and were prepared with specific questions.

Benedum and executives from Franciscan Health Services were peppered with two hours of anxious inquiries from community members about the merger’s impact on available reproductive health and end-of-life services.

Margaret Chen, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington Foundation, said this level of civic engagement is atypical. “The visibility of concerned citizens was large in the Vashon Island community, maybe in part because of the unique situation [of being so separated from other options].” This response, she suggested, might have been part of the reason the new ownership agreed to continue offering birth control, family planning, and contraception to patients on the island — though a company spokesperson said the directives are “consistently applied” across all of its facilities.

While the executives sought to assure residents that “nothing is going to change at the Vashon medical clinic,” Hunter wasn’t convinced. She recalled one particularly concerning exchange toward the end of the forum: “Does your contract with your doctors specify that they will follow the directives?” a resident asked. “Yes, they do,” the Franciscan representative answered. “Our employment contract does.”

John Jenkel, who is part of the Vashon-Maury Health Collaborative, a community group that works to improve emergency care options on the island, said the relationship between the new ownership and residents was scarred by that early tension. “[T]hose directives and the manner in which the Franciscans communicated with the community caused a rift that never really made for a comfortable working relationship on our small island,” he said. “The initial discussion that the Franciscans had with the community was a rocky one, and the relationship of the directives to the type of care the Franciscans would be providing was never too clear.”

Hunter stopped going to the Vashon clinic. “I just feel so strongly that no one’s religious beliefs should interfere with my health care and I had no confidence that that would not be the case at the clinic anymore,” she said. Instead, she travels to a secular nonprofit facility in Seattle, via ferry and bus — a 60- to 90-minute trip each way.

When ThinkProgress reached out to Franciscan for comment, spokesperson Scott Thompson said that “none of the practice’s women’s reproductive services changed at the clinic after Highline’s affiliation with CHI Franciscan Health.” However, he added that the Vashon Island clinic would be closing in August. The company attributed the decision to the cost of operating the clinic and the fact that visits had declined from about 1,000 a month when they took it over to between 750 and 850 a month today.

Kate Hunter laments that with the closing, “there will be no health care clinic on Vashon Island. We’re back to ground zero.”

The bishops’ directives were last updated in 2009 and, according to observers, are due to be revised again in the near future. Reproductive rights advocates say a revision could loosen restrictions on how hospitals that become Catholic through mergers may deal with reproductive decisions — or could put the kibosh on the limited flexibility that Catholic chains have shown in places like Vashon Island.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, fears it will be the latter. “I think the upcoming regulations are going to close those avenues for alternative provision for those health care services, to make the partnership agreements even more strict on who must/must not do this or that,” she said. “I think it will make it worse.”

MergerWatch’s Lois Uttley is a bit more optimistic. “We hope that they will be realistic about the fact that, in this day and age, Catholic hospitals are serving everyone in the community, not just Catholics. And they are employing doctors and staff that come from a wide background of religious affiliation,” she said. “We hope there will be a recognition that all hospitals, including Catholic ones, are licensed to serve the whole community.”

The press office for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about their timetable for an update. But when and if the directives are updated, they could make a huge difference in terms of whether doctors at hospitals that merge with Catholic hospital system.

In the meantime, several approaches have been contemplated for how to address the topic.

The Center for Inquiry, which advocates for a secular society, thinks that the Medicare and Medicaid funding Catholic hospitals receive could be used as leverage to force Catholic hospitals to provide a full range of reproductive health and end-of-life care. Michael De Dora, who heads the Center’s Office of Public Policy, explained that while he does not believe all individual doctors should be forced to engage in all health care services, all hospitals should. “The responsibility should be with the hospital in any case [if] they’re receiving public funds,” he said. “That is the ideal.”

The ACLU’s Brigitte Amiri noted that some — though not many — states have considered legislation that would shield doctors from punishment, should they choose to provide services forbidden under the directives. After non-discrimination laws and same-sex marriage equality were enacted, several Catholic Charities organizations shelved adoption services rather than serve same-sex couples.

Thus far, the ACLU has concentrated its efforts on the judicial system, threatening and bringing lawsuits under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act and state medical laws. Two suits were dismissed at the trial court level, though both are being appealed, and others are still working their way through the courts. In April, for the first time, the 41,000 doctors of the California Medical Association announced they would join an ACLU of Northern California case against a Catholic hospital system that bars its doctors from performing tubal ligation.

Since these and other attempts to force Catholic hospitals to provide services have not yet been met with much success, some activists have focused on making the rules more transparent.

Washington state enacted a requirement that hospitals generally disclose what services they refuse to provide to the state government — which would become public record — but MergerWatch’s advocacy coordinator, Christine Khaikin, observed even that “leaves a lot of room for interpretation to the hospital system,” and few hospitals have reported much of anything.

model-patiens
CREDIT: AMERICAN ATHEISTS

The American Atheists, a group that advocates for a strict separation of government and religion, have circulated a piece of model state legislation called the Patient’s Right to Know Act. The organization’s national legal and public policy director Amanda Knief said it would simply require that providers “inform their patients up front of all services they’re not going to provide, according to their religious, philosophical beliefs.” This “sunshine law” would not require hospitals to provide an explanation or a referral, she added, but simply a disclosure of which services are not provided there “because we’re Catholic affiliated, or we’re Pastafarian affiliated, or we don’t believe in modern medicine.”

The bill has been introduced in Arizona, and Knief is hopeful other states will soon follow. But, she acknowledges, it may have trouble gaining momentum — some progressive groups have been reluctant to back the measure because it lacks a requirement that the hospital refer the patient to a place that performs procedures prohibited by the directives.

In some communities, MergerWatch has partnered with local advocates to utilize state hospital merger laws and galvanize public actions to force accommodations or block the mergers entirely. “Frankly, totally stopping the merger is our fallback position,” Lois Uttley explained. “What we try to do, from the outset, is make sure that community access to needed reproductive health care services is preserved in some way.” She pointed to one case in which a separately funded and staffed reproductive health care center was opened on the second floor of a newly Catholic hospital that could no longer provide all services under the directives. In another, the community got a local hospital to call off its plans to affiliate with a Catholic system.

But, like with Crittenton Hospital in Michigan, these mergers often fly under the radar. Because the hospitals themselves do not highlight that they are going to begin restricting services, MergerWatch, the ACLU, and a small number of other organizations are often the only early-warning system for communities. And, as Sara Hutchison Ratcliffe of Catholics for Choice pointed out, until more people understand what these mergers mean, it can be an uphill battle for them to galvanize community resistance.

“Awareness isn’t the only solution, but it is the first step,” she said. “Until they are aware, the likelihood of something happening is small… The first step is getting those who have the power to change it involved.”

The fate that awaits Rochester, Vashon, and the numerous other communities that have recently experienced hospital mergers is uncertain. Indeed, some may choose to go the path of resistance favored by Washington’s quirky island community, organizing themselves and arranging well-attended town hall meetings. But, as Merissa Kovach and her coworkers at the ACLU of Michigan experienced while organizing their campaign, getting that community buy-in is often an uphill battle.

“One of the biggest issues with this is that it’s just not well-known at all and nobody understands what these hospitals are doing,” Kovach said. “We’re in such a public education step with this, and it’s such an unknown issue. People don’t know why they should care.”

But why did they seem to know and care in the Washington island? At least some portion of the differences between the two community responses can likely be drawn along political lines — Vashon overwhelmingly leans left, Rochester tilts right. But what took place in the Michigan city might be the more standard course of events: A merger takes place in a community that isn’t predisposed to fight it — or isn’t even aware that it might impact the care they expect to receive — and, as was the case with Rochester, a new merger quietly goes into effect. And the cumulative impact of these mergers, critics say, is an overall reduction in available reproductive services.

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CREDIT: DYLAN PETROHILOS

So what are the alternatives to Catholic medical care? In some rural communities, there aren’t any — it’s a Catholic system or nothing at all. That’s a sobering reality for people on all sides of the debate, including reproductive health advocates. They recognize that a singular focus on the expansion of the Catholic health care system ignores the forces that often propelled them to step in in the first place. Public hospitals are struggling, and their Catholic counterparts can provide much-needed care. According to the most recent MergerWatch report, the number of public short-term acute care hospitals in the U.S. dropped an astonishing 34 percent between 2001 and 2016. The number of secular nonprofit hospitals, too, shrunk by 11 percent, while for-profit systems shot up by more than 50 percent. In rural areas, where it is harder to turn a profit, these trends have left tremendous disparities in health care access.

Catholic hospitals help fill some of that gap — but at what cost? The ACLU’s Brigitte Amiri worries that hospitals’ fealty to the directives over the standard of care means that for some, the delta between the services they seek and those that are available is becoming a gulf.

“We don’t want to take away health care services from a community that desperately needs them,” she acknowledged. “But I don’t think we can be so timid about our work that we don’t push them to provide health and lifesaving care to women.”

Kiley Kroh and Tara Culp-Ressler edited this piece. Cory Herro provided research assistance. Videos by Victoria Fleischer, graphics by Dylan Petrohilos, and illustrations by Laurel Raymond.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

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What We Know About The Judges Obama Is Reportedly Vetting For The Supreme Court

After an evening meeting, President Barack Obama walks along the colonnade from the Oval Office to the White House Residence in Washington, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, carrying a binder containing information on possible Supreme Court nominees. Credit: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

— by Ian Millhiser, Think Progress

According to the Washington Post, the White House is considering six candidates for the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia: federal appeals court judges Sri Srinivasan, Jane Kelly, Merrick Garland, Paul Watford, and Patricia Millett, along with district judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Judge Sri Srinivasan

Judge Sri Srinivasan
Judge Sri Srinivasan

Judge Sri Srinivasan offers the conventional mix of youth, experience, and credentials that presidents often look for when selecting a Supreme Court nominee. A judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, a court that is widely considered the second most powerful in the nation, Srinivasan was confirmed to this job by a 97-0 vote. He clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, served as the principal deputy to Solicitor General Don Verrilli, and argued more than two dozens cases in the Supreme Court before his own elevation to the bench.

Srinivasan’s record during his just under three years as a judge suggests that his approach to the law is similar to other mainline Democratic appointees. Among other things, Srinivasan authored an opinion reinstating minimum wage and overtime protections for home care workers after those protections were cut off by a trial judge’s order. And he was one of three judges on a panel that refused to halt the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, it’s most aggressive effort to fight climate change. (Shortly before Scalia’s death, the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc halted this effort on their own, over the dissent of all four of the Court’s liberals.)

The case challenging the Clean Power Plan remains ongoing, however, and it is still pending before the panel that includes Judge Srinivasan. Thus, nominating Srinivasan presents some risk for the president because it could lead to a different judge being swapped in to hear this case. Should Srinivasan be confirmed to the Supreme Court, he would also need to recuse from the case because he already ruled on the request to temporarily halt the Plan as a circuit judge. Some of the White House’s liberal allies have also expressed concerns about Srinivasan’s record prior to becoming a judge; his past clients include ExxonMobil and former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling.

Judge Jane Kelly

Judge Jane Kelly
Judge Jane Kelly

By the ultra-elite standards of the very top echelons of the legal profession, Judge Jane Kelly does not have the same eye-popping credentials as Srinivasan. After graduating with honors from Harvard Law, Kelly clerked for a U.S. Court of Appeals judge, but never for a Supreme Court justice. While Srinivasan made a name for himself in DC as one of the nation’s top Supreme Court litigators, Kelly toiled in relative obscurity in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Dismissing Kelly’s credentials because they do not match up with Srinivasan’s, however, is a bit like labeling Wonder Woman a weakling because she does not pack quite as much of a punch as Superman. Elite law firms currently offer a signing bonus of up to $75,000 for recent law graduates fresh out of a federal circuit clerkship, and that’s in addition to a starting salary in the mid-to-high $100,000s. So Kelly could have enjoyed a very lavish life in a prestigious legal practice.

She turned this life down to become a public defender, a job she held until her appointment to the Eighth Circuit in 2013. She continued to do that job even after she was attacked by an unknown assailant and left for dead while jogging in 2004. “After having that happen to her,” former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) later said about Kelly, “she went right back to work sticking up for the constitutional rights of people accused by the federal government. To me, that was a mark of real character and sort of inner strength and resolve that something like that was not going to make her throw in the towel.”

A Kelly nomination could also embarrass Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who has thus far refused to consider anyone that President Obama names to fill Scalia’s seat. Grassley praised her nomination to the Eighth Circuit, quoting a friend of his on the federal bench who praised her “exceptionally keen intellect” and concluded that “she will be a welcomed addition to the Court if confirmed.” If Kelly is the nominee, expect videos like this one, where Grassley urges his colleagues to confirm her, to become a stable of cable news coverage of the nomination:

http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?c4580805

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Chief Judge Merrick Garland
Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the DC Circuit is the sort of nominee that Obama and Senate Republicans might agree to elevate to the Supreme Court as a compromise, if compromise is actually possible with the current Senate majority. Garland, who President Clinton appointed to the DC Circuit in 1997, is far and away the oldest candidate among the four the White House is reportedly vetting — he’s 63. In nearly two decades on the bench, Garland has also built a fairly centrist record.

Like the much younger Srinivasan, Garland’s resume is laden with the kind of credentials that make mere mortal attorneys droll with envy — including a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan and a senior Justice Department job prior to Garland’s elevation to the bench. On most issues, moreover, is is likely that Garland would side with the Supreme Court’s liberal bloc in divided cases.

Nevertheless, there are a few areas where his instincts appear more conservative. In 2003, Garland joined an opinion holding that the federal judiciary lacks the authority, “to assert habeas corpus jurisdiction at the behest of an alien held at a military base leased from another nation, a military base outside the sovereignty of the United States,” effectively prohibiting Guantanamo Bay detainees from seeking relief in civilian courts. The Supreme Court reversed this decision a little over a year later in Rasul v. Bush. (Though, it is worth noting that legal experts disagree about whether the result Garland supported was compelled by then-existing precedents.)

Garland also appears to have relatively conservative instincts in criminal justice cases. According to a 2010 examination of Garland’s decision by SCOTUSBlog’s Thomas Goldstein, “Judge Garland rarely votes in favor of criminal defendants’ appeals of their convictions.” Goldstein “identified only eight such published rulings,” as well as an additional seven where “he voted to reverse the defendant’s sentence in whole or in part, or to permit the defendant to raise a argument relating to sentencing on remand,” during the 13 years Garland had then spent as a federal judge.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia is the only federal trial judge among the six mentioned by the Washington Post. At 45, she is also the youngest, Jackson’s resume includes several years of private practice, service on the United States Sentencing Commission, and work as a public defender. She clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.Jackson’s current status as a trial judge could prove to be both a blessing and a curse if she is Obama’s nominee. On the one hand, appellate judgeships are considered to be more prestigious than trial judgeships. The Supreme Court is also an appellate court, so a judge with experience at the appellate level is likely to be more used to the kind of work that goes into being a justice. That said, nearly all of the cases heard by the Supreme Court began in trial courts, and they can often turn upon procedural motions, fact-finding and other matters that occurred at the trial level. Currently, the only sitting justice with experience as a trial judge is Justice Sonia Sotomayor, so Jackson would bring an underrepresented perspective to the nation’s highest Court.

According to the Washington Post, the White House is focusing on potential nominees “with scant dis­cern­ible ideology and limited judicial records as part of a strategy to surmount fierce Republican opposition.” Jackson, however, does have some opinions that are likely to fuel Republican opposition if she is nominated. In Rothe Development v. Department of Defense, Jackson rejected a challenge to a program that provides “technological, financial, and practical assistance, as well as support through preferential awards of government contracts” to companies that are designated as “small disadvantaged businesses.” One of the criteria used to determine if a business qualifies for this designation is whether a majority owner of the business belongs to a racial minority group. Though Jackson’s opinion upholding this limited consideration of race in government contracting closely tracks a 2012 decision by another judge of her court, which rejected a “nearly identical” challenge, it is likely that Rothe Development will play a starring role in conservative attack ads should Jackson be the nominee.

Additionally, Jackson denied a request by the website Gawker that tried to “force former Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines to explain why he had work-related emails in a private account.” Although her decision merely concluded that the request was “premature,” and not that it could not succeed at a later date, it is unlikely that conservative attack groups will dwell on that nuance if Jackson is the nominee.

Judge Paul Watford

Judge Paul Watford
Judge Paul Watford

ThinkProgress previously described Judge Paul Watford as a “conventional superqualified nominee.” A former law clerk to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Watford joined the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 2012, after spending a few years as a federal prosecutor and then becoming a partner in a large law firm.Watford, however, had a somewhat more rocky confirmation process than Srinivasan and Kelly — a fact that may stem from Watford being one of only a handful of judicial nominees President Obama named in his first term who fit the conventional profile for a future Supreme Court justice. Grassley, in particular, objected to a few amicus briefs Watford wrote while still in private practice, including a brief opposing Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070, and another one filed on behalf of groups opposed to Kentucky’s lethal injection protocol. Judge Watford was eventually confirmed by a 61-34 vote.

Since becoming a judge, Watford authored three opinions in cases that were later reviewed by the Supreme Court. The justices agreed with Watford about the correct result in all three — including a case where the Supreme Court agreed with Watford’s decision to strike down a Los Angeles ordinance requiring hotels to share guest records with police even if the police do not have a warrant.

Judge Patricia Millett

Judge Patricia Millett
Judge Patricia Millett

Like Srinivasan, Judge Patricia Millett was among the nation’s top Supreme Court advocates prior to her appointment to the DC Circuit — arguing 32 cases during her time as an attorney in the Solicitor General’s office and later in private practice. Prior to becoming a judge, she alsoserved on the board of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights organization in Washington, DC. During her confirmation to the DC Circuit, one of the most active lobbying groups working on her behalf was a network of lawyers who are also military spouses. Millett’s husband served in the Navy, and they met at a church event while he was stationed at the Pentagon and were later married in the same church.Under normal circumstances, a Millett nomination would be a considerable olive branch extended toward Senate Republicans. Among other things, Millett once defended the conservative Roberts Court’s record in business cases during testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that the justices “show[ed] a fair amount of balance in the business area” during a previous term. In just over two years on the DC Circuit, she’s authored just over two dozen majority opinions, none of which are particularly ideological

(The president’s opponents may complain about an opinion rejecting a challenge to various aspects of the Affordable Care Act and its implementation, but that lawsuit received little backing from interest groups that have otherwise been eager to support suits against Obamacare that have even a small chance of prevailing. Judge Millett’s opinion in that case was also joined by a conservative George H.W. Bush appointee.)

Millett, however, was also the very first judge confirmed after Senate Democrats invoked the so-called “nuclear option” to allow lower court nominations to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. This maneuver, which effectively shut down Senate Republican efforts to maintain ideological control over the nation’s second most powerful court, remains a sore spot among Senate Republicans. If Millett is the nominee, it is likely that many senators will take their frustrations with this rules change out on the judge.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

An Historic Attempt To Kill Roe v. Wade May Backfire Spectacularly On The Anti-Choice Right

CREDIT: DOUG MILLS/THE NEW YORK TIMES VIA AP, POOL

It was supposed to be an epic battle over the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Next week, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to Texas’s ambitious anti-abortion law HB2. If this law is upheld — a very real possibility in a conservative Supreme Court — Roe v. Wade would have most likely remained alive in name only. States would gain sweeping new power to shut down abortion clinics, so long as they dressed up the laws they enacted to end access to abortion as health regulations.

Except that opponents of abortion no longer have the fifth vote they need to gut Roe. Justice Antonin Scalia’s death means that Roe shall live at least another year. Whether it survives past next year, however, could very well be decided by whoever gets to fill Scalia’s seat.

The Masterminds

HB2 is the brainchild of the sophisticated anti-abortion group Americans United for Life (AUL). The law imposes expensive architectural and other requirements on abortion clinics, as well as often-difficult-to-obtain credentialing requirements on abortion providers. If the Supreme Court allows the law to take full effect, at least 32 of the 40 abortion clinics that existed in Texas before it was enacted are expected to shut down.

AUL, moreover, does not hide its goal in pushing such legislation — as ThinkProgress’ Erica Hellerstein reported, AUL functions as a “legislation mill” producing anti-abortion bills that can be copied and enacted in many states. The anti-abortion group brags on their website that they work “through the law and legislative process to one end: Achieving comprehensive legal protection for human life from conception to natural death.” Overruling Roe v. Wade, according to AUL, “can be accomplished through deliberate, legal strategies that accumulate victories, build momentum, and restore a culture of life.”

Just over one week ago, Whole Woman’s Health appeared poised to become AUL’s crowning achievement. Under the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, states may not enact laws that place an “undue burden” a woman’s right to choose abortion — a vague standard that’s proved quite malleable in the hands of abortion opponents. At the same time, states may legitimately regulate all medical clinics, including those that provide abortions, to protect the health of individuals who seek treatment from those clinics. Whole Woman’s Health asks what happens when a state enacts abortion restrictions disguised as health regulations.

The clinic regulations and credentialing requirements at issue in this case will do little, if anything, to advance women’s health. But they make it a whole lot harder to obtain an abortion. Thus, a decision upholding HB2 could potentially return women to a world much like the one that existed prior to Roe. States may not actually be allowed to openly ban abortion after such a decision, but they’d have broad authority to restrict abortion just so long as they are clever enough to devise anti-abortion laws that look like health laws. And if state lawmakers proved inept at this task, groups like AUL would be more than happy to give them a hand.

Now, however, with Scalia’s seat vacant and the Court evenly divided between Democratic and Republican appointees, the likelihood HB2 will be upheld outright is vanishingly small.

No Longer The Man in the Middle

Before Scalia’s unexpected death, all eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy, the closest thing the Roberts Court has to a swing vote on abortion. As a general rule, if your plan of attack against an abortion restriction depends on winning Kennedy’s approval, you need a better plan. Prior to HB2, Justice Kennedy considered 21 abortion restrictions as a member of the Supreme Court andallowed 20 of them to take effect. In one case, Kennedy justified an abortion restriction in part because he thought that “it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”

(It also seems unexceptionable to conclude that some people come to regret their choice to bring a dangerous firearm into their home, yet this insight has not animated Kennedy’s votes in Second Amendment cases.)

Yet, while Kennedy’s opinions reveal an almost visceral revulsion towards abortion, he’s also proved unwilling to overrule Roe outright. Kennedy co-authored the Casey opinion, which limited abortion rights, but which also purported to hold that “the essential holding of Roe v. Wade should be retained and once again reaffirmed.”

Thus, before conservatives lost their majority on the Supreme Court, the most important question in Whole Woman’s Health was likely to be which Justice Kennedy shows up to work next week — the one that consistently upholds abortion restrictions or the one that is unwilling to invalidate Roe in its entirety. Kennedy, moreover, gave hope to Team Choice when he cast the fifth vote to stay a lower court order upholding nearly all of HB2.

Uncertain Process

Now that the Court is evenly divided between liberals and conservatives, Kennedy no longer has the power to drive a nail in Roe‘s coffin, but he could still have the power to do considerable damage to the right to choose. The ordinary rule when the Court splits 4-4 is that the lower court’s decision is affirmed and the justices’ decision does not have any precedential value. Because the court of appeals largely upheld HB2, a 4-4 decision in Whole Woman’s Health would allow the Texas law to almost entirely remain in effect — at least until a fifth justice is confirmed to the Court and another abortion case reaches the justices.

Thus, as Cosmopolitan’s Jill Filipovic notes, Scalia’s death may actually make it more likely that Justice Kennedy votes to uphold HB2. “If Scalia were still alive, Kennedy might be choosing between overturning Roe and invalidating the Texas law,” Filipovic writes. Now, however, he doesn’t have to choose between two options that he’s likely to view as undesirable. Rather, if he sides with the conservatives he will leave lower court’s opinion in place without creating a precedent he may later come to regret. “For this particular justice, who seems to find abortion troubling but may not want to see it outlawed wholesale,” Filipovic notes, “that may be a desirable outcome.”

There is, however, some uncertainty about whether Kennedy will have this option. As SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein notes, the Court’s past practice when a vacancy opened in the middle of a term was to hold cases where the justices split over until the next term, when the open seat presumably would be filled. Given the extraordinary obstructionism Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already planned against anyone President Obama sends up to fill this seat, it remains to be seen whether the justices will decide to hold over split decisions until next term or simply affirm the case by an evenly divided vote and be done with it.

Which process they choose could matter a great deal in Whole Woman’s Health. Recall that Kennedy provided the fifth vote to stay the lower court’s decision upholding HB2. That order provides that the stay shall last until “the issuance of the judgment of this Court.” Thus, if the Court holds the case over for reargument next term, the stay remains in effect until the Court decides the case, and HB2 does not go into effect. If the Court affirms the lower court by an evenly divided vote, by contrast, that counts as a “judgment” of the Supreme Court, so the clinics most impacted by HB2 will close.

The choice whether to hold the case over could also matter for an entirely different reason. If President Obama (or a similarly minded president) manages to fill Justice Scalia’s seat, one of the first matters taken up by the Court’s new liberal majority would be a major abortion case. That would not only give them the opportunity to strike down HB2, it would also give them the chance to expand a right to choose that has been gradually chipped away after decades of conservative decisions. The vague “undue burden” standard that now controls abortion cases was pushed by abortion opponents including the Reagan Justice Department and AUL itself before it was ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court. A more liberal Court could scrap this standard altogether or, at the very least, clarify it in a way that does not permit anti-abortion judges to take advantage of its vagueness.

Rather than becoming AUL’s crowning achievement, in other words, Whole Woman’s Health could be their most demoralizing defeat.

Yet that outcome depends entirely on who gets to fill Justice Scalia’s seat. If the next justice is more like Scalia, Whole Woman’s Health could still become AUL’s greatest triumph.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

One Simple Chart Explains The Climate Plans Of Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders

— by Emily Atkin

Credit:  AP Photos / Charlie Neibergall / Dennis Van Tin

From left to right: Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). All three have different plans to fight climate change if elected to the presidency.

When Hillary Clinton released a fact sheet detailing her plan to fight climate change on Sunday night, her presidential campaign characterized it as “bold.” Indeed, the goals outlined in the plan are significant — a 700 percent increase in solar installations by the end of her first term, and enough renewable energy to power every home in the country within 10 years.

But not everyone thought Clinton’s plan was as bold as her campaign made it out to be. That seemingly included the campaign of her Democratic rival, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, which sent an email to reporters titled “What Real Climate Leadership Looks Like” about an hour before Clinton’s plan was scheduled to be released.

What does real climate leadership look like? According to the O’Malley campaign’s email, it looks like having a definitive position on every controversial policy in the environmental space. Arctic drilling, fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline — O’Malley’s climate plan details strong stances on all of those topics. The plan Clinton released on Sunday does not.

Clinton’s plan does include ways to achieve her stated goals in solar energy production, including awarding competitive grants to states that reduce emissions, extending tax breaks to renewable industries like solar and wind, and investing in transmission lines that can take renewable power from where it’s produced to where it’s needed for electricity. She also proposed cutting some tax breaks to fossil fuel companies to pay for her plan, though she hasn’t proposed eliminating them completely like Sanders and O’Malley have. Vox’s Brad Plumer called Clinton’s goals “certainly feasible in principle, but the gritty details will matter a lot.”

Of course, many presidential candidates haven’t fully fleshed out their policy strategies yet — Clinton, for her part, has acknowledged that Sunday’s release represented only the “first pillar” of announcements about climate and energy. By contrast, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — her main contender for the Democratic nomination — hasn’t formally released a climate policy plan yet. But he has publicly stated his positions on many of the most hot-button environmental issues, including some that Clinton has not yet addressed.

With all that in mind, here’s a look at what voters can expect from each of those three Democratic presidential candidates when it comes to tackling climate change, based on their public statements and official plans so far.

climate-goals

Credit:  Graphic by Dylan Petrohilos

It’s worth noting that this checklist isn’t definitive. Just because Sanders has said he supports many of these policies doesn’t necessarily mean he will include them in his official climate plan when and if he releases one. And just because Clinton hasn’t included some of these issues in her current plan doesn’t mean she won’t (or will) in the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that just because O’Malley has included all of these things in his climate plan doesn’t mean he’ll be able to achieve them. His plan leans steeply to the left of even the Obama administration’s climate strategy, which the Republican-led Congress is fighting tooth-and-nail to dismantle.

That a Democratic presidential nominee might have a difficult time achieving their climate goals, however, can be said about any of the candidates — especially considering the fact that more than 56 percent of current congressional Republicans don’t believe climate change exists at all. For environmentalists and climate hawks, that may mean that the candidate with the most aggressive goals represents the safest option.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

It’s Women’s History Month—So Naturally—Republicans Wage Sneak Attack

By CAP Action War Room

The Latest Ploy in The Ongoing Attack on Women’s Health

PoisonPill08
GOP breaks out their favorite Poison Pill … Again!

Women’s access to basic health care continues to be under attack at both the state and federal level. The most recent threat came this week when Republican lawmakers in the Senate snuck anti-choice provisions into a bipartisan bill aimed at helping victims of human trafficking. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (S. 178), which would establish a fund for victims of human trafficking, wasn’t supposed to be controversial. In fact, it enjoyed wide bipartisan support until Senate Democrats discovered that Republicans added language that would restrict federal funding for abortion–even forcing underage victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term. Democrats have now vowed to hold the entire bill until the anti-choice language is removed.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act is just the latest attempt to restrict women’s reproductive rights on the national level. Unfortunately, actions on the state level are even worse. Last week, West Virginia Republicans overrode a gubernatorial veto and passed a 20-week abortion ban. With the veto override, West Virginia became the 11th state to prohibit abortions past 20-weeks, despite the fact that over the last few years courts have blocked several 20-week abortion bans for violating protections offered under Roe v. Wade. Montana and New Mexico are among other states considering 20-week bans under the guise of “fetal pain,” which scientists agree does not exist. And earlier this month, Wisconsin Governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker also said he would sign a 20-week ban.

While Democrats have been able to prevent anti-choice language from creeping into federal law thus far, these state-based corrosive efforts are working. A ThinkProgress investigation found that the maze of state abortion restrictions, usually framed as legal regulations, is driving the price of abortion services up so high that lower-income women are effectively priced out of the market. The attack on women’s healthcare has gone so far that a Texas Republican legislator has protested her colleagues’ proposal to cut funding for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics, saying that without that “provider network, women cannot be served. And they will die.”

BOTTOM LINE: From trying to shut down the Department of Homeland Security, to undermining international agreements with Iran, to voting 56 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party has proven it is unfit to govern. These recent threats to women’s health are just another example of how out-of-touch and dangerous GOP policies can be.

As an aside:  Senator Heller has submitted an amendment (S.Amdt 283) to this bill, however, the text of his amendment has not yet been posted to Congress.gov.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.  Like CAP Action on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign and To Sell Off America’s Public Lands

— by Matt Lee-Ashley, Guest Contributor at ThinkProgress-Climate

west land
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/REED SAXON

The recent Cliven Bundy debacle in Nevada put a national spotlight on the long-running, and long-failing, effort by right-wing Western legislators to seize federal public lands and either turn them over to the states or sell them to the highest bidder.

While the renewal of this so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” has thus far been carried out with limited resources by part-time legislators like State Rep. Ken Ivory (R-UT), new research shows that its leaders are now using taxpayer money from at least 42 counties in nine Western states to advance an aggressive and coordinated campaign to seize America’s public lands and national forests for drilling, mining, and logging.

According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website.

Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions.

Legal experts report that Utah’s law, and similar bills being advanced by ALC and ALEC are in clear violation of Article IV of the Constitution, are in conflict with the laws that established Western states, and would be overturned if ever tested in federal court.

As the American Lands Council has grown in influence and resources, its activities have received new scrutiny. ALC President Ken Ivory, for example, reportedly earned more than $40,000 from the organization in 2012 (his salary for 2013 has not yet been disclosed). According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ivory’s wife, Becky, also receives payments from the ALC.

A recent fundraising email obtained by ThinkProgress also shows that at least one ALC member, Washington County, Utah Commissioner Alan Gardner, is using his government title and government email account to raise money for ALC’s lobbying efforts and training of political candidates.

The fundraising solicitation that was sent from Gardner’s official government email address on June 13 asks county governments to contribute $1,000 to become a “Bronze” member, $5,000 to become a “Silver” member, or $25,000 to become a “Gold” member of the ALC.  Gardner confirmed to ThinkProgress that he was the author of the email.

The fundraising solicitation says that up to $100,000 will be spent by ALC on a “Campaign Project” aimed at equipping candidates for federal, state, and county office with “materials and resources to build broad based Knowledge and Courage to compel Congress to honor its promise to us and our children to transfer title to the public lands….” Gardner’s email also reports that the funds will be used for lobbyists, a legal team, polling, and engaging the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

ALC’s use of county funds adds to the growing cost to taxpayers of the right-wing land seizure movement. The state of Utah, for example, has already spent more than $500,000 to study a takeover of federal land and has set aside an additional $3 million for legal fees to fight the federal government in court. In Idaho, when the Attorney General’s office questioned the legality of seizing federal lands, legislators in the state spent more than$20,000 on private counsel. In Nevada, a federal land seizure study cost taxpayers more than $66,000, while a special task force to study the issue in Wyoming cost taxpayers$30,000.

In addition to using taxpayer funds to advance unconstitutional bills to seize federal lands, the ALC also relies on financial support from the mining industry and fossil fuel interest groups. Americans for Prosperity, for example — another group financed by the Koch brothers — is listed as a “Bronze Member” of ALC. Mesa Exploration, a mining company whose recent proposal to build a potash mine in an area that the Donner Party crossed in 1846 was recently nixed by federal land managers, is also listed as a “Bronze Member” on ALC’s website.

Matt Lee-Ashley is a senior fellow and director of the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress. You can follow him on Twitter at @MLeeAshley.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Paul Ryan’s Budget Makes Wild New Claims About Obamacare

— BY IGOR VOLSKY, ThinkProgressPaul Ryan

CREDIT: AP

As Obama administration moves closer to meeting it original goal of enrolling 7 million people in the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance marketplaces, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has released a budget that repeals the law and asks Congress to “pursue patient-centered health-care reforms that actually bring down the cost of care by empowering consumers.”

And while this new Fiscal Year 2015 budget borrows heavily from previous versions, the April 1st release is far more critical of Obamacare. In a possible preview of the GOP’s election-year rhetoric, this year, Ryan warns — in almost apocalyptic terms — that the law “will undermine the private insurance” and “the competitive forces of the marketplace.” He even argues that it would “eventually lead to a single-payer system.” Here is a comparison between last year’s blueprint and Tuesday’s release:

Fiscal Year 2014: Repeal the health-care law’s exchange subsidies

The new law couples these subsidies with a mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance and bureaucratic controls on the types of insurance that may legally be offered. Taken together, these provisions will weaken the private-insurance market. Exchange subsidies take the health-care market in the wrong direction, breaking what’s working at a time when policymakers need to fix what’s broken. Government mandates will drive out all but the largest insurance companies. Punitive tax penalties will force individuals to purchase coverage whether they want it or not. Further, the law does not condone any policy that would require entities or individuals to finance activities or make health decisions that violate their religious beliefs.

This budget repeals the President’s onerous health-care law. Instead of putting health-care decisions into the hands of bureaucrats, Congress should pursue patient-centered health-care reforms that actually bring down the cost of care by empowering consumers.

Fiscal Year 2015: Repeal the Exchange Subsidies Created by the New Health-Care Law.

The new law couples these subsidies with a mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance and bureaucratic controls on the types of insurance that may legally be offered. Taken together, these provisions will undermine the private insurance market, which serves as the backbone of the current U.S. health-care system. Exchange subsidies will undermine the competitive forces of the marketplace. Government mandates will drive out all but the largest insurance companies. Punitive tax penalties will force individuals to purchase coverage whether they choose to or not. Further, this budget does not condone any policy that would require entities or individuals to finance activities or make health decisions that violate their religious beliefs. This budget provides for the repeal of the President’s onerous health-care law for this and many other reasons.

Left in place, the health law will create pressures that will eventually lead to a single-payer system in which the federal government determines how much health care Americans need and what kind of care they can receive. This budget recommends repealing the architecture of this new law, which puts health- care decisions into the hands of bureaucrats, and instead allowing Congress to pursue patient centered health-care reforms that actually bring down the cost of care by empowering consumers.

Interestingly, while Ryan goes to great lengths to criticize the ACA’s “government mandates” and the supposed decision to leave “health- care decisions into the hands of bureaucrats,” he praises this very same kind of government-control elsewhere in the budget.

For instance, in discussing his plan to allow future retirees the choice of private insurance through his “premium support” proposal, Ryan promises that “the Medicare program and its benefits will remain as they are, without change.” For future retirees, Ryan proposes an Obamacare-like exchange that will feature private insurers providing Medicare-like plans. However, Ryan tasks the government with policing the plans private insurers offer “to avoid cherry-picking, and to ensure that Medicare’s sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage.” Just four pages earlier, Ryan criticizes such government intervention in the exchanges.

Republicans have already voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act in full or in part at least 51 times and on Monday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) doubled down on his commitment to hold more repeal votes. “House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences,” he said. “We will also continue our work to replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs.” House leadership has also pledged to introduce a unified alternative to the health care law, although they have not provided a timeline for drafting or debating that measure.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Republican Secretary Of State in Indiana Convicted Of Voter Fraud

BY JOSH ISRAEL

Though President Ronald Reagan called the right to vote the “crown jewel of American liberties,” many Republicans around the country have begun demanding increased voting restrictions in the name of fighting “voter fraud.” Though actual cases of voting fraud are so rare that a voter is much more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls, one Republican official in Indiana has proved that lightning can strike himself.

Yesterday, a jury found Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R) guilty on six felony counts of voter fraud, theft, and perjury. The conviction cost White his job, though he plans to ask the judge to reduce the charges to misdemeanors and hopes to perhaps regain the position.

In a statement, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) announced White’s deputy will take over on an interim basis:

I have chosen not to make a permanent appointment today out of respect for the judge’s authority to lessen the verdict to a misdemeanor and reinstate the elected office holder… If the felony convictions are not altered, I anticipate making a permanent appointment quickly.

But a second court case could ultimately give the job to Democrat Vop Osili, who lost to White in November 2010. A judge’s December 2011 ruling — currently on hold, pending appeal — held that due to the voter fraud charges, White’s election was invalid. Should that ruling survive the appeals process, Osili would assume the office.

Ironically, White’s now-removed 2010 campaign website listed election integrity as among his top concerns, and promised he would “protect and defend Indiana’s Voter ID law to ensure our elections are fair and protect the most basic and precious right and responsibility of our democracy-voting.”

NOTE:
In 2005, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed “the strictest voter ID requirements in the nation,” and Republicans said at the time that it was “needed to guard against voter fraud.”


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.


Editor’s Note:  The irony in this entire situation is that one of their own got caught and now, instead of being outraged and going after Mr. White, instead they want to downplay his heinous actions to mere misdemeanors, slap him on the hand, and put him back in the job that is responsible for policing such actions!  Had that been a Democratic Secretary of State committing such actions, they would be attempting to elevate his actions to the equivalent of treason and calling for his execution!

Support for Our Troops That Falls Short of the Mark

Amodei-SNAP02.fwFormer Vice President Dick Cheney took to Fox News on Monday night to lambaste the Obama administration’s proposed cuts to the military budget, lamenting the president’s desire to ensure that Americans have access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps — despite the fact that over 900,000 veterans currently depend on them.

Cheney appeared on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show last night to discuss the the fiscal year 2015 military budget as previewed on Monday afternoon. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey announced among other initiatives a reduction in the size of the Army, a fact that didn’t sit well with Cheney. While the hand-wringing that the Army will be smaller than at any point after World War II is mostly hype, the former vice president still readily agreed with Hannity’s premise that the proposed cuts are “dangerous,” lamenting that Obama has not had Reagan-like increases in defense spending.

“You know, I’ve obviously not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama, but this really is over the top,” Cheney said. “It does enormous long-term damage to our military. They act as though it’s like highway spending and you can turn it on and off.” Cheney also remains worried that in announcing a rebalancing of U.S. strategy towards Asia — and away from the Middle East that was the focus of his time in office — is just a cover for Obama to slash the military budget further and display his dislike for the military further:

CHENEY: They peddle this line that now we’re going to pivot to Asia, but they’ve never justified it. And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it’s driven by budget considerations. He’d much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.

Amodei-SNAP.fwWhat Cheney apparently doesn’t realize is that many of the same troops that he claims the Obama administration doesn’t support rely heavily on the food stamps that he wishes to cut. A Defense Department review released last year showed that military families were more reliant on food stamps in 2013 than in any previous year, with over $100 million in food stamp spending at military grocery stores. “Food stamp usage at the stores has more than quadrupled since 2007 as the recession compounded the already difficult financial situation faced by military families,” ThinkProgress’ Deputy Economics editor Alan Pyke wrote last week.

Despite his experience in first the Pentagon and then the White House, Cheney also seems unaware that many of the troops he supports depend on the same food stamp program once they leave military service. “Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in a recent analysis. Given the high unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans — 9.7 percent for those who served when Cheney was in office — it’s unsurprising that many of them need assistance from the government to help make ends meet.

And in spite of the large number of former servicemen and women that count on the program, Cheney’s Republican colleagues are still fastidiously attempting to skin it to the bone. As of last November, thanks to House Republicans’ demands, veterans saw along with their fellow beneficiaries a cut of $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person. The result: food stamps now average less than $1.40 per person per meal. Given just how sparse benefits were, at just $133 a month on average before the cut, Cheney’s protestation against Obama for wanting to provide more to those who have served comes across as somewhat unseemly.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Documents Reveal Anti-Gay Parenting Study Was Manipulated To Influence Supreme Court

By Zack Ford at ThinkProgress on Mar 11, 2013 at 9:15 am

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Mark Regnerus has admitted his “family structures” study didn’t actually measure gay parenting, comparing the children of separated parents who had same-sex relationships with those of married opposite-sex parents. An internal auditor of the journal that published the Regnerus study last year concluded its findings were “bullshit” because this false comparison doesn’t adequately measuring same-sex parenting. Nevertheless, conservatives have repeatedly cited the study, even to the Supreme Court, claiming same-sex couples are unfit to raise children to substantiate their opposition to marriage equality, even though medical professionals have thoroughly debunked its claims. Now, documents reveal that the anti-gay conservatives who originally funded the study conspired before data was even collected to produce results that could influence “major decisions of the Supreme Court.”

The American Independent collected internal documents through public-records requests from the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, which funded the Regnerus study, and found that its President intended the study to produce a result against gay parenting before it was even conducted. This is not surprising, as both the Witherspoon Institute, as well as the study’s other funder, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, are connected to Robert George, founding co-chair of the National Organization for Marriage and prominent legal opponent of marriage equality. Now these emails confirm that suspicion.

For example, the University of Texas hired academic consultant W. Bradford Wilcox to conduct data analysis on the Regnerus study, ignoring that he was a longtime fellow of the Witherspoon Institute and was still working with Witherspoon while the study was conceptualized. Regnerus reached out to Wilcox back in September of 2010 for input about “their hopes for what emerges from this project.” Wilcox also suggested the study be pitched to the journal Social Science Research, where Wilcox sits on the editorial advisory board.

The study was also rushed, with Witherspoon president Luis Tellez telling Regnerus in 2010 that the study should “move along as expeditiously as possible”:

TELLEZ: It would be great to have this before major decisions of the Supreme Court but that is secondary to the need to do this and do it well. I would like you to take ownership and think of how would you want it done, rather than someone like me dictating parameters but of course, here to help.

Tellez confirmed to The American Independent that he was referring to same-sex marriage cases. In April 2011 — a year before the study was complete — Tellez wrote in a letter that “we are confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study as long as it is done honestly and well.” He also suggested that no prior study had properly compared children raised by a mother and father and those “headed by gay and lesbian couples, but of course the Regnerus study doesn’t even do that.

Publication was similarly rushed. It was submitted for publication in February 2012 before Regnerus had even completed all of the data collection and accepted just six weeks later, while many other articles published in the same issue took a year between submission and acceptance. Peer review was similarly hurried, with one social demographer told he only had two weeks to review the study and offer a commentary — without even having access to all the data.

These documents vindicate suspicions that the study was politically calculated. Indeed, at every step of the process, the goal of this study was always to undermine same-sex parenting, not learn anything of its potential value. In truth, with the fraudulent methodology on national display, it has only served to reveal the animus behind those opposed to LGBT equality.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.