The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Ringing Doorbells While Black

Update: Fox settled. No trial, damnit. Details not yet released. 

16-year-old Ralph Yarl is alive and has been released from the hospital, which is remarkable considering he was shot in the head a few days ago. Yarl is the Kansas City teenager who was shot by a homeowner for the crime of ringing a doorbell. He’d been sent by his parents to pick up his younger brothers but went to the wrong house. Let us hope young Mr. Yarl, an honors student, completely recovers.

The shooter was an 84-year-old White man named Andrew Lester, and Ralph Yarl is Black. Lester said that he feared Yarl was trying to break into his house, never mind that burglars rarely ring doorbells. We know Yarl was never inside Lester’s house, because the first shot Lester fired was through a glass door. Obviously, Lester fired without bothering to speak to Yarl to find out why Yarl was ringing his doorbell.

Yarl, bleeding from his head and elsewhere, had to run to a number of other homes in the area before someone finally helped him. Lester has been charged with assault in the first degree, which carries a possible life sentence.

I’d personally like to know if Andrew Lester had a criminal record, since we are perpetually being told that America’s gun violence problems are caused by “criminals,” and that “law-abiding citizens” can be trusted to own firearms. I’d like to know the same thing about 65-year-old Kevin D. Monahan of Washington County, New York. Last night Monahan shot and killed 20-year-old Kaylin A. Gillis, who had mistakenly driven into Monahan’s driveway.

Washington County Sheriff Jeffrey Murphy said Monday that Kaylin A. Gillis was in a car with three other people Saturday night looking for a friend’s house. The rural section of Washington County where the shooting took place is dark at night and many of the properties are only accessible by unpaved driveways.

Murphy said the group mistakenly drove up to a house on Patterson Hill Road, 19 miles northeast of Gillis’ residence in  Schuylerville. As they attempted to turn the car around, the sheriff said, Kevin D. Monahan came out on his porch and fired two shots, one of which hit Gillis while she was seated in the car.No one from the group had left the car or tried to enter Monahan’s house before he came out and opened fire, Murphy said.

For the record, Ms. Gillis was White. One assumes somebody named Kevin Monahan is White also. The police said that Monahan was not drunk and did not appear to be mentally ill.

This sort of thing happens from time to time in the U.S. Back in 1992 a 16-year-old Japanese exchange student named Yoshihiro Hattori was shot and killed by a homeowner in Baton Rouge because Hattori rang his doorbell. He and another teenager from his host family were going to a Halloween party and had the wrong address. Hattori was dressed as John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever, so he couldn’t have been mistaken for a werewolf. In any event, the two young men were walking back to their car when Peairs emerged from his house with a gun.

At first the Baton Rouge police declined to charge the shooter, Rodney Peairs. But the case became international news. Japan was outraged. Probably the State Department applied some pressure. Peairs eventually was charged with manslaughter. At the trial, the defense portrayed the 130-pound Hattori as scary and Rodney Peairs as just a regular guy defending his family. Peairs was acquitted.

And then in 2013 22-year-old Rodrigo Abad Diaz, an immigrant from either Colombia or Cuba (sources vary), was shot and killed for being in the wrong driveway. Diaz and some friends were looking for another friend. They planned to go ice skating. The GPS took them to the wrong address. The young people were sitting in the car in the driveway when the homeowner, 70-year-old Phillip Sailors of Lilburn, Georgia, came out of his house and fired a warning shot. Diaz, the driver, immediately began to turn around to leave, when Sailors shot again and struck Diaz in the head. Then he held the young people at gunpoint until police arrived.

The police handcuffed the surviving young people and kept them in a cell overnight. Initially Sailors wasn’t charged with anything. The eventual outcome of the case was that Sailors reached an undisclosed settlement with the Diaz family and was sentenced to a $500 fine and one year probation in a plea agreement. The prosecutors were not eager to go to trial, saying that Sailors had no criminal record and they thought he’d be “sympathetic” to a jury.

We’ll see what happens with Andrew Lester of Kansas City. At his age it’s possible he could claim dementia. And of course Missouri has stand-your-ground laws that excuse a lot of shootings. Kevin Monahan is probably screwed though. It’s New York, not some yahoo red state, and he killed a small White woman who probably was not all that intimidating.

But yeah, it’s not criminals. It’s the guns. People have a right to protect their property, we are told, but the gun cult has these law-abiding citizens so whipped up in fear of scary alien people invading their homes they are a menace to anyone who gets bad GPS directions. And Girl Scouts will need body armor to sell cookies. These crimes need big penalties, not fines and probation.

In other news — The Dominion trial is going forward, and I understand a jury has been selected.

A trial has been scheduled for May 9 in the suit filed by Wandrea Moss and her mother, Ruby Freeman, the Georgia election workers, against the right-wing cesspool site Gateway Pundit. I’m looking forward to that one.

In other other news — If you were watching Rachel Maddow last night you heard the tape of Republican officials of McCurtain County, Oklahoma, longing for the good old days when you could just take Black people “down to Mud Creek and hang them up with a damn rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They got more rights than we got.” If you missed it, you can read about it here.

In more other news — Ron DeSantis’s war with the Mouse is escalating. From Crooks and Liars–

This is just the latest episode of DeSantis’ weenie-wagging at Disney. Round One began after the company dared to criticize his “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The governor planned to retaliate by taking over the governing board for the property that Disney controlled. But the plan failed when the company outsmarted him.

Now, DeSantis thinks he’s going to look good with bigger threats of bigger punishments. He plans to introduce a bill in the legislature essentially overturning the Disney-controlled board. And he plans to give the state new power to inspect rides at Disney World. 

That’s just for starters. From the New York Times —

Mr. DeSantis also suggested a variety of potential punitive actions against Disney — the state’s largest private employer and corporate taxpayer — including reappraising the value of Walt Disney World for property tax levies and developing land near the entrances to the resort.

“Maybe create a state park, maybe try to do more amusement parks — someone even said, like, maybe you need another state prison,” Mr. DeSantis said at a news conference near Disney World.

Two weeks ago, Mr. DeSantis — a leading Republican presidential contender although he has not officially declared that he is running — floated the idea of raising taxes on Disney hotels and imposing tolls on roads that lead to its theme parks. He has also requested an investigation by Florida’s chief inspector general into Disney’s efforts to circumvent his authority.

That last sentence is my favorite. How dare anyone not bow down to Florida’s Mussolini? This must be investigated! See also DeSantis suggests building prison near Disney World, touts bill to assert Disney control at USA Today.

Disney retaliated by announcing an LGBTQ Pride night at its California property, which is outside DeSantis’s jurisdiction.

To me, Ol’ Ron is looking like a character from another company’s cartoons. And I am not talking about the Rabbit.

Gym Jordan Lies About Crime for Trump

Gym Jordan and some other House Republicans, including Matt Gaetz and George Santos, were in Manhattan today to hold some sort of “hearing” on crime in Alvin Bragg’s district. The report at Rolling Stone suggests it was a madhouse. Access was highly restricted, including to the press, so I’m assuming the purpose of this was to generate something that will be shown on Fox News and possibly nowhere else. From Rolling Stone:

 “What the fuck is going on here?” one reporter whispered to a colleague. 

Indeed, that was also the question of the hour, given crime statistics in Manhattan. New York Police Department data indicates that homicides are down nine percent in Manhattan year-to-date. Shootings have dropped 14 percent in the same period, and robbery and burglary are down in the borough by 10 and 23 percent, respectively. 

There’s a nifty chart of crime rates in U.S. cities based on FBI crime data that somebody maintains on Wikipedia. You can look up which cities have the highest rates of homicides, rapes, whatever. Currently, these are the top ten U.S. cities for violent crime. The numbers are the rate of murders, rapes, robberies, and assaults per 100,000 population.

St. Louis, Missouri, 2,082.29
Detroit, Michigan, 2,056.67
Baltimore, Maryland, 2,027.01
Memphis, Tennessee, 2,003.32
Kansas City, Missouri, 1,724.31
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1,597.36
Cleveland, Ohio, 1,556.76*
Stockton, California, 1,414.56
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1,369.14
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1,333.96

The much-maligned Chicago is #17 at 1,098.86, which puts it in between #16 Minneapolis and #18 Houston. New York City is #59, with 538.90.

If you want the list for homicides only, the top ten are St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Kansas City, Cleveland*, Memphis, Newark, and Cincinnati*.

*Ohio is Gym Jordan’s home state. I see that the New York Daily News is running a big headline saying that Ohio’s murder rates are far higher than New York’s, but it’s behind a subscription paywall.

In other news: The Dominion trial was supposed to start this morning, but it’s delayed until tomorrow. Some news outlets are reporting that the people who are supposed to know stuff, whoever they are, say the delay is to discuss the possibility of a settlement. There’s no official word of this from the court.

Mediaite is reporting that Trump is warning Rupert Murdoch to testify the 2020 election was stolen from him.

In an all-caps post on Truth Social, Trump urged Murdoch to “EXPOSE THE TRUTH ON CHEATING IN THE 2020 ELECTION.” Fox is the defendant in a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit filed by Dominion, which says that Fox knowingly amplified false claims about the company in order to promote Trump’s disproven theories about how the election was stolen from him and handed to Joe Biden. According to Trump, Fox’s acknowledgement that the election was not stolen from him represents a legal liability.


Unfortunately for Trump, I suspect Rupert will listen to his own lawyers, thanks much. And “stollen” is German Christmas bread.

The Gun Cult’s Disconnect from Reality

The mass shooting body count from last night is four dead and several wounded in Dadeville, Alabama, and 2 dead and four wounded in Louisville, Kentucky. The Alabama shooting was at a private “sweet sixteen” birthday party being held in a dance studio, and the Kentucky shooting was in a public park. Police haven’t released any details about any suspected shooter in either case. And I’m going to hazard a guess that neither of these locations was a “gun-free zone.”

As these shootings were happening, the NRA was in convention in Indianapolis. So far, the biggest news out of the convention is that Mike Pence was booed there. Pence is trying to move right of Trump on guns. His solution to mass shootings in schools is a mandatory death sentence, which kind of ignores the fact that school shooters are nearly always killed on the site of the shooting. At least as often as not the shooters ended the carnage by shooting themselves, which has led to speculation that a spectacular suicide was the point. Younger shooters, who are the ones who tend to target schools, are nearly always suicidal, FBI data says. Exactly how the threat of a death penalty will deter that seems unclear.

In fact, the only school mass shooter I can think of who is still alive is Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. It’s possible there are others, but that’s the only one that turns up in google search. Remarkably, this seems to be the only mass school shooting Pence mentioned in his NRA speech. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to life in prison last year. I seriously doubt executing Cruz is going to deter the next school shooter. Or park shooter, or birthday party shooter, or …

Another of Pence’s suggestions was “rebuilding institutional mental health care in America.” Pence continued, “Families with someone who is struggling, a threat to themselves or a threat to others, have to have a place to send that family member other than the county lockup.” Wouldn’t red flag laws be easier, Mike? Seriously, if someone is reported as “struggling” it’s not okay to confiscate their firearms but it is okay to commit them to a mental hospital?

And there’s a big leap between “struggling” and “psychotic,” or some sort of mental disorder severe enough to require hospitalization. And I haven’t heard that police regularly take “struggling” people to county lockup, either. I think you have to be suspected of committing a crime first.

There’s all kinds of data showing that most mass shooters did not have any diagnosis of mental disorder before the shooting.

We often hear after a mass shooting that mental health is to blame.

However, a Columbia University research study found that of the 1,800 mass murders, only 8% of all mass shooters were diagnosed with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or severe bipolar disorder.

The article goes on to say that about 25 percent of mass shooters had anxiety or depression, but that’s true of the general population. And if we keep roughly a quarter of Americans locked up for being depressed or anxious, that still leaves us with a lot of people who might be mass shooters.

A number of other Republican politicians addressed the convention, either in person or by video, and they all said pretty much the same thing. It’s not a gun problem. It’s a crime problem, or a mental health problem, or even a “spiritual” problem.

Basically, they’re all in denial of reality. Too bad we can’t have them locked up in mental hospitals.

Meanwhile, during the convention a number of Indianapolis business owners have posted signs asking that guns not be carried on the premises.

E.J. Dionne:

The GOP’s conversion to gun absolutism is the heart of the problem. But politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It often follows from cultural and moral innovations.

For roughly four decades, American conservatism has identified firearms as a marker of a manly rejection of urban cosmopolitanism and gun ownership as a right more important than any other. As DeSantis said in his video, the right to bear arms is “the foundation on which all our other rights rest” and essential to Americans’ “ability to rule themselves.”

“Why do Joe Biden and the liberals want our guns?” asked Gov. Kristi L. Noem of South Dakota, another speaker. “Because it will make it easier for them to violate all our other rights.”

They’re clinging to guns because, deep down, they know they’re losing. They’re falling back on gerrymandering and making it harder to vote because, deep down, they know they’re losing. They are taking power away from urban areas because, deep down, they know they’re losing. They’re banning books because, deep down, they know they’re losing. All their antidemocratic crap in the name of “freedom” is about clinging to power even though they represent a minority of Americans. And they’re dangerous, and getting more so.


Now the Right Is Against National Security

You’ve surely heard about the stupid kid in the Air National Guard who was leaking secret documents to impress his gamer buddies. The kid is only an airman 1st class, but he was also an I.T. specialist in an intelligence unit connected to NORAD, it says here. So he had access to all kinds of top secret information relating to “foreign aircraft, air-defense weapons, military operations, and foreign-policy decisions.” He would have had to sign a document “acknowledging the possible penalties for a violation,” but he did it anyway. And just for the jollies, not for money or ideology. NORAD will have to tighten its security, possibly starting with a provision that no personnel with access to sensitive documents are arrested adolescents.

But the weird thing is that the Right is embracing the kid, Jack Teixeira, as its new righteous cause. For example:

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene on Thursday defended the man arrested in connection with a high-profile investigation into leaked classified documents.

In a tweet just hours after the FBI arrested Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, 21, Greene, R-Ga., praised his alleged actions and implied President Joe Biden was “the real enemy.”

“Jake Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar. That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime. And he told the truth about troops being on the ground in Ukraine and a lot more,” Greene, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, said on Twitter. “Ask yourself who is the real enemy?”

Why, you’re the real enemy, Marjorie! Thanks for asking! And yes, the leaked documents showed that there were all of 14 special forces U.S. troops “on the ground” in Ukraine.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told Fox News on Wednesday that a “small U.S. military presence” was stationed at the American embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

“I won’t talk to the specifics of numbers and that kind of thing. But to get to your exact question, there is a small U.S. military presence at the embassy in conjunction with the Defense Attaché’s Office to help us work on accountability of the material that is going in and out of Ukraine,” Kirby said. “So they’re attached to that embassy and to that defense attaché.”

Those troops “are not fighting on the battlefield,” Kirby said.

Kirby added: “There has been no change to the president’s mandate that there will not be American troops in Ukraine fighting in this war.”

Liz Cheney thinks Greene should lose her security clearance for defending Teixeira. Sounds about right.

And this:

FOX NEWS’ TUCKER Carlson gave a bizarre defense of suspected intelligence leaker Jack Teixeira on Thursday night. The primetime host claimed that federal authorities arrested Teixeira to cover up a covert, illegal US presence in Ukraine, and as punishment for contradicting “the National Security State and their obedient servants in the media.” 

Teixeira, a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman, is suspected of having posted highly classified documents on a private Discord server. The documents were later reposted from the server to other public forums. 

“Tonight, the news media are celebrating the capture of the kid who told Americans what’s actually happening in Ukraine,” Carlson told viewers. He continued, “They are treating him like Osama Bin Laden, maybe even worse actually, because, unlike Al Qaeda, apparently, this kid is a racist.” The host was referring to reports that the Discord server in which Teixeira shared the documents contained several racist memes

Worse than Osama bin Laden? Yes, being taken into custody is so much worse than being killed in a commando raid and dumped in the ocean. And troops assigned to a U.S. embassy are not “illegal.”

Greene is too stupid to appreciate that the defense of Ukraine really is in U.S. interest. Tucker is not, but doesn’t care. An opportunity to bash the Biden administration takes precedence over national security, you know.

In other news — Lawrence O’Donnell on Clarence Thomas:

Justice Thomas failed to disclose a real estate transaction, which was the sale of his mother’s house to conservative billionaire donor Harlan Crow. And the cute part is that Clarence Thomas’s mother still lives in the house, which Crow has renovated at his expense on her behalf. We don’t know if any rent is being paid to Crow.

Corruption, much?

Tennessee, Dominion, Lots of Lawsuits

The other Dem expelled from the Tennessee House, Justin Pearson, has just been reinstated by a unanimous vote of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners. So now both expelled men are un-expelled. I am skeptical Republicans have learned any lessons about overreach, however.

Also, “Senate Democrats are urging the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the expulsions of two Tennessee state representatives to determine whether their removal violated the Constitution or federal civil rights law,” WaPo reports.

In other news, the Dominion lawsuit is not going well for Fox.

Delaware Superior Court Judge Eric Davis on Wednesday sanctioned Fox News and its parent company, Fox Corp., for withholding evidence in the Dominion defamation suit, and said he’s considering further investigation and censure.

According to a person present in the courtroom, lawyers for Dominion Voting Systems played recordings Fox News producer Abby Grossberg made during 2020,which were not handed over to Dominion’s lawyers during discovery.

Grossberg, a former producer for Fox hosts Maria Bartiromo and Tucker Carlson, has sued Fox News and said her deposition was coerced. In an amended filing Tuesday, she said she had recorded conversations with Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and others.

The sanction gives Dominion a chance to conduct another deposition, at Fox’s expense.

And there’s more!

The surprise evidence and sanction comes days before the trial is scheduled to begin in the $1.6 billion defamation case Dominion Voting Systems filed against Fox News and Fox Corp. Davis also said Wednesday he was considering appointing a special master to investigate the Fox legal teams’ actions.

On Tuesday, Davis expressed frustration at Fox News for not being straightforward about Rupert Murdoch’s role as a leader at Fox News.

“This is a problem,” Davis said, according to a court transcript. “I need to feel comfortable when you represent something to me that is the truth.”

The latter issue, as I understand it, is that Dominion and the Court understood that Rupert was chairman at Fox Corp. but was not an officer of Fox News, that he’s stepped away from any official capacity at Fox News. But it turns out that wasn’t true. Dominion is complaining that had they known Rupert was still directly involved in making decisions about the News division, they would have handled the case differently. I hope this doesn’t cause the trial date to be pushed back.

In other news — Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller spends six hours at federal court where Jan. 6 grand jury meets. One suspects he was there to testify.

In other news — Democrats want to call GOP’s bluff on defunding the FBI. (No paywall.)

In other news — Trump sues Michael Cohen for reasons. I think Trump is just mad at Michael Cohen about stuff he said in his book.

Guns! Abortion! Trump! Republicans In Disarray!

Today Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg filed a lawsuit against Gym Jordan to keep him from further interfering in the Trump case.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, asking a court to block elements of the congressional inquiry into his case against former President Donald Trump.

Calling it an “unprecedently brazen and unconstitutional attack” of an ongoing investigation, Bragg said in the suit that allowing Jordan’s demands, including subpoenaing former Assistant DA Mark Pomerantz, would cause “imminent irreparable harm if the secret and privileged material is compelled to be disclosed.”

Bragg’s suit asked the court to block Jordan’s subpoena of Pomerantz. Jordan, R-Ohio, wants Pomerantz to sit for a deposition as part of the Judiciary panel’s investigation into the indictment of Trump. 

Gym is whining that the suit is an attempt to block congressional oversight, but since when does a U.S. House committee have oversight over a local District Attorney? Since never, I’m pretty sure. The suit was filed in in federal court in the Southern District of New York.

Speaking of courts — the abortion pill decision out of Amarillo highlights a big problem for Republicans. For years they strove mightily to seed the judiciary with right-wing zealot judges.  And the problem they have now is, they’ve succeeded. Jennifer Rubin writes,

Given that Kacsmaryk’s decision has heaped fuel onto the conflagration caused by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Republicans might want to ponder: Is the right-wing judiciary as a whole a threat to the MAGA movement’s viability?

It is one thing to gin up the base on invented threats from critical race theory or the “great replacement theory.” But when the MAGA movement’s judges begin to inflict radically unpopular edicts on those outside the right-wing audience, that risks sparking a counter-response: a determined, broad-based movement insistent that the United States not turn the clock back on decades of social progress. …

… Republicans cannot very well tell their appointees to cool it; they certainly cannot contain the blowback their judges unleash. The greatest irony of Donald Trump’s presidency might be that the “accomplishment” that most thrilled right-wingers may accelerate the vanquishing of a movement that is at odds with the values and sensibilities of most Americans. And the power of the judiciary itself may be one of the casualties.

Maybe we’re about to see what Shakespeare meant by “Hoist with his own petard.” It’s also notable that the media narrative has flipped from “abortion is a difficult issue for Democrats” to “abortion is a difficult issue for Republicans.”  And it looks like the same metamorphosis is happening on the issue of guns.

Republicans have, over a period of decades, cultivated a base of screaming zealots who will accept no compromises. Republicans are just now waking up to the difficulty of keeping the base happy while not scaring off the less extremist majority. Jonathan Weisman writes at the New York Times,

Republican leaders have followed an emboldened base of conservative activists into what increasingly looks like a political cul-de-sac on the issue of abortion — a tightly confined absolutist position that has limited their options ahead of the 2024 election season, even as some in the party push for moderation. …

… The problem goes beyond abortion. With each mass shooting, the G.O.P.’s staunch stand against gun control faces renewed scrutiny. Republicans courted a backlash last week when they expelled two young Democratic lawmakers out of the Tennessee state legislature for leading youthful protests after a school shooting in Nashville that left six dead. Then on Monday came another mass shooting, in Louisville, Ky.

Republicans thought they had a lock on two safe issues — abortion is always bad, guns are always good. Keep restricting abortion; stop all restrictions on guns. What could go wrong? Well, what went wrong is the messy, complicated, real world, which refuses to behave in accordance with right-wing talking points. More guns do not result in less crime. In the real world, the opposite is true. People are starting to notice. And abortions often are medically necessary, in spite of decades of anti-abortion propaganda saying otherwise. Again, people are noticing.

If the abortion pill case is reviewed by the Supreme Court, the wingnut majority may want to let it stand, but they are in a precarious place now. Justice Clarence Thomas’s open corruption is just part of it. Justice Kavanaugh’s concurring opinion in Dobbs was all about how the courts could wash their hands of the abortion issue now that it had been returned to the states (again, the real world is not cooperating). Let’s see Beer Bong Brett wiggle out of that. And I suspect John Roberts will want the court to not do anything that rocks the boat or scares the chickens right now.

Speaking of scaring the chickens, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton appears to have more or less admitted his primary residence really isn’t in his district. I can’t tell if his story is getting much traction in Tennessee yet, but surely someone is already planning the television ads for the 2024 statehouse races …

Justin Jones Reinstated

This afternoon the Nashville Metro Council voted to reappoint Tennessee Democratic Rep. Justin Jones to the state House.  It was a 36–0 vote. I understand he has already been sworn in and seated. Let’s hope Justin Pearson gets the same support in Memphis.

There are reports from credible sources today that Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, who led the effort to get the Tennessee Three expelled from the legislature, does not live in his own district. He has a condo in his district, but his primary home appears to be elsewhere. This puts him in violation of the state Constitution.

Guns and Pills and Smirking White Men

What a week we’re having. First, let’s look at last night’s abortion pill decision. Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate:

On Friday evening, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of Texas issued an unprecedented decision withdrawing the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, the first drug used in medication abortion, 23 years after it was first approved. His order, which applies nationwide, marks the first time in history that a court has claimed the authority to single-handedly pull a drug from the market, a power that courts do not, in fact, have. Kacsmaryk’s ruling is indefensible from top to bottom and will go down in history as one of the judiciary’s most shocking and lawless moments. It goes even further than expected, raising the possibility that he will impose “fetal personhood,” which holds that every state must ban abortion because it murders a human. Within an hour of its release, the decision also spurred the start of a constitutional crisis: A federal judge in Washington swiftly issued a dueling injunction compelling the FDA to continue allowing mifepristone in 17 states and District of Columbia, which brought a separate suit in Washington.

Kacsmaryk stayed his decision for one week to let the Biden administration appeal, but his ruling stands a good chance of being upheld at the radically conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If his order takes effect, the FDA will be faced with competing, mutually exclusive court orders requiring the agency to simultaneously suspend mifepristone nationwide and preserve access to the drug in 18 blue jurisdictions. The agency cannot comply with both orders at once. And because Kacsmaryk’s is broader, covering all 50 states, it guarantees that mifepristone will be suspended in much of the country. Only the Supreme Court can resolve this looming crisis, and it has a very limited window of time in which to do so. It has been less than a year since the court claimed to rid itself of the abortion issue. Now it must decide whether American patients will lose access to an abortion drug that has been on the market for 23 years and proven safer than Tylenol—on the order of a single, rogue judge.

It is probably impossible to count how many errors, exaggerations, and lies Kacsmaryk, a Donald Trump appointee, put in his decision. The judge appears to have largely copied and pasted the briefs filed by the anti-abortion group that filed the suit, the Alliance Defending Freedom, rephrasing their arguments as his own analysis. (This was predictable—Kacsmaryk himself is a staunch anti-abortion activist—and might be why ADF handpicked him specifically to hear the case for them.) His decision repeats the ridiculous and objectively false conspiracy theory about mifepristone—that the FDA illegally rushed its approval in 2000 at the behest of former President Bill Clinton, the pharmaceutical industry, and population control advocates. Kacsmaryk flyspecked the FDA’s assessment of the drug, concluding that its studies were insufficient and that the agency “acquiesced to the pressure to increase access to chemical abortion at the expense of women’s safety.” And he claimed that he had authority to revisit an FDA approval that occurred 23 years ago because the agency happens to have changed rules around the dispensation of the drug several times since.

It’s likely mifepristone will become unavailable for at least a while, which should certainly cause the backlash to the Dobbs decision to grow even stronger. The forced birth zealots cannot help themselves, however. And if a judge can just magically overrule the FDA for pretend reasons, just imagine the wingnut judges who will try to outlaw birth control pills and covid vaccines.

Jill Filipovic:

But the big takeaway from the radical and unprecedented decision to ban Mifepristone is this: The anti-abortion movement has always been an anti-democratic and authoritarian movement, and that authoritarianism has taken over the Republican Party and the far-right judiciary. This decision was not about life or women’s health or drug regulation or even the law (it really, really wasn’t about the law). It was a simple assertion of dominance, a clear statement that the right will stop at absolutely nothing – including the outer bounds of American law – to force women into compliance.

It is entirely about control.

And this is just a preview of what’s to come.

Jessica Valenti:

I could write about how this decision lays bare the lie of ‘states’ rights’, or how a singular activist judge being able to wave away decades of science and progress is a sign of our decaying democracy. I could write out the ways that the FDA could respond, or what the Biden administration should say and do. But others will do a better job of all that. Besides, that’s not at all what’s on my mind. 

What’s weighing on me—almost literally, my head and body feel heavy—is the look on my 12 year-old daughter’s face each and every time I have to tell her another piece of bad news about women. But it’s not just her face I keep seeing. It’s the looks on the faces of the men who are ruining us. 

Donald Trump. Brett Kavanaugh. Matthew Kacsmaryk. Smug and assured, ignorant and shameless. Somehow we’ve ended up with the dregs of humanity robbing us of our own.

And this:

What makes this all so much worse is that men like these actually do think they know better than we do. In spite of their absolute mediocrity and near-unbelievable idiocy, these men truly believe they are the ones best suited to make decisions about our bodies and futures. 

Kacsmaryk, with his self-satisfied smirk and Proud Boy haircut, is just the latest in a long line of men brimming with misogyny and undeserved power. Men like him have existed forever and they continue to be everywhere. 

Hmm, self-satisfied smirk. What does that remind me of? How about Tennessee state representative Andrew Farmer talking down to representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson? He might as well have just said “I’m the White Man and I’m telling you Black boys how you need to behave.”

As Elie Mystal said on MSNBC a couple of nights ago, “Tennessee is giving a more abject lesson in Critical Race Theory than any AP History course possibly could.”

Basically, Republicans have been boiled down to their core of privileged White men who believe they are entitled to control the rest of us. And they aren’t going to change. The only way the Party can change is if its current membership is replaced, somehow. Don’t tell them I said that, though; it’ll trigger their Great Replacement Theory fears.

The New York Times is reporting that Jones and Pearson might be reinstated soon, possibly as early as next week. There appears to be strong support in their districts for returning them, and not waiting around for a special election. The expulsion of these representatives appear to be part of a pattern of the mostly white legislature picking on largely black cities. For example, “Nashville sued the state last month over a law that would slash by half the size of the council, which governs Nashville and Davidson County.”

There are also reports that the White Men in the state capitol have threatened to take funding away from projects in the Memphis area if Justin Pearson is returned to the legislature.

But make no mistake, the expulsion of two Black men from the Tennessee legislature and the mifepristone ruling from the smirking Judge Kacsmaryk are coming from the same place.

And the fallout from the revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas continues. I don’t think there’s any way to touch Thomas short of impeachment and removal, which is not going to happen in the current Congress. But, again, this episode does hand a lot of political capital to the people who want to make changes to the Court. And the current Congress won’t last forever.

The GOP: A Cornered and Wounded Animal

It’s said that wounded and cornered animals are the most dangerous. The GOP is acting like a wounded and cornered animal. And what’s rich is that the GOP wounded and cornered itself.

Yesterday’s happenings in Tennessee may prove to be one of those flashpoints that change everything, like the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 or Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in 1955. Before yesterday, hardly anyone outside Tennessee had ever heard of State Reps. Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson, and Gloria Johnson. Now they’re going to be media celebrities. Way to go, Tennessee GOP. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

BTW, members of the Nashville city council are saying they will reappoint Justin Jones back to the Tennessee House. It appears there’s a majority vote, although I don’t think it’s been taken yet. Justin Pearson represents part of the city of Memphis, and I would think he would receive similar support, although I haven’t heard anything specific except that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners may meet sometime in the next few days to discuss what to do.

See Mike Allen and Zachary Basu at Vox, The GOP’s Epic Losing Streak. The GOP has been falling short of election expectations since 2018. And by continuing to rally around Trump, they are putting themselves in danger of a massive shellacking in 2024. At some level, some of them ought to be able to see this. But they seem unable to change course nonetheless.

The Tennessee episode was not just blatantly racist, but it also illuminated the GOP’s unwillingness to deal with gun violence in any way except to make more guns available.

Charlie Kirk, the conservative founder and president of Turning Point USA, said during an organizational event on Wednesday that gun deaths in exchange for the preservation of Second Amendment rights is part of America’s reality. …

… “You will never live in a society when you have an armed citizenry and you won’t have a single gun death,” Kirk said at a Turning Point USA Faith event on Wednesday, as reported by Media Matters for America. “That is nonsense. It’s drivel. But I am—I think it’s worth it.

“I think it’s worth to have a cost of, unfortunately, some gun deaths every single year so that we can have the Second Amendment to protect our other God-given rights. That is a prudent deal. It is rational. Nobody talks like this. They live in a complete alternate universe.”

He added that “having an armed citizenry comes with a price, and that is part of liberty.” Other solutions he mentioned included armed guards at school buildings, as well as “having more fathers in the home.”

Kirk also compared gun deaths to fatalities resulting from automobile accidents.

“Having an armed citizenry comes with a price, and that is part of liberty,” he said. “Driving comes with a price—50,000, 50,000, 50,000 people die on the road every year. That’s a price. You get rid of driving, you’d have 50,000 less auto fatalities. But we have decided that the benefit of driving—speed, accessibility, mobility, having products, services is worth the cost of 50,000 people dying on the road.

“So we need to be very clear that you’re not going to get gun deaths to zero. It will not happen. You could significantly reduce them through having more fathers in the home, by having more armed guards in front of schools. We should have a honest and clear reductionist view of gun violence, but we should not have a utopian one.”

I suspect he was speaking for most Republicans. He’s making a straw man argument, of course. Nobody iexpect zero gun deaths. But having the same rate of firearm deaths as, say, Canada or Switzerland — especially where children are concerned — would be nice. Gun ownership is legal in both Canada and Switzerland, btw.

The chart above is based on 2020 data, btw. I believe it’s worse now.

Basically, Kirk’s words show us how far Republicans will go to not admit guns are a problem. They cannot admit it even to themselves. They will continue to toss out the same old talking points about “gun free zones” and “law abiding citizens” versus “criminals” that don’t apply to the real world. Guns are absolutely sacrosanct to them now, more so than children. Ironically, embryos are also more sacrosanct than children. Weird. Last night’s vote in the Tennessee legislature was an exercise in denial. In the psychological sense of the word. They have to stifle all this talk about gun control. This is how they cornered themselves.

Polls tell us a significant majority of Americans favor more restrictions on firearm ownership, including background checks, red flag laws, and restrictions on open and concealed carry without a permit. Republicans won’t even discuss these things. Of course nationwide polls don’t show us state/regional differences. But just as Democrats are learning to not back away from the abortion issue, I believe they’re learning to not back away from the gun issue, either.

The election of Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin state supreme court is also being met by much hysteria in the Wisconsin legislature. There is serious talk of impeaching her already, because she’s not one of them. The Wisconsin GOP simply cannot abide not controlling the court. Wisconsin law is not suppose to allow impeachments except for serious misconduct, but of course the GOP is acting like a wounded and cornered animal who will stop at nothing to survive. Well, except for what they really need to do to survive, which is cut loose from Trump and moderate their positions on abortion and guns, among other things.

And then there’s Justice Clarence Thomas. Every news outlet in the U.S. has a big headline today about how Justice Thomas didn’t think lavish gifts from a major GOP donor needed to be reported. It’s going to be a lot easier going forward for Democrats to paint the Roberts court as corrupt and in need of big reforms.

Unfortunately, they’re not going to stop acting like wounded and cornered animals in the near future. They have staked Trump, abortion, and guns as the hills they’re going to die on, and they may very well do that. So to speak.

Update: See The Abortion Ban Backlash Is Starting to Freak Out Republicans by Michelle Goldberg.

It’s Nice to Own a Supreme Court Justice

ProPublica has a wowzer of a Clarence Thomas story. If this checks out, it’s massive.

IN LATE JUNE 2019, right after the U.S. Supreme Court released its final opinion of the term, Justice Clarence Thomas boarded a large private jet headed to Indonesia. He and his wife were going on vacation: nine days of island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef.

If Thomas had chartered the plane and the 162-foot yacht himself, the total cost of the trip could have exceeded $500,000. Fortunately for him, that wasn’t necessary: He was on vacation with real estate magnate and Republican megadonor Harlan Crow, who owned the jet — and the yacht, too.

For more than two decades, Thomas has accepted luxury trips virtually every year from the Dallas businessman without disclosing them, documents and interviews show. A public servant who has a salary of $285,000, he has vacationed on Crow’s superyacht around the globe. He flies on Crow’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet. He has gone with Crow to the Bohemian Grove, the exclusive California all-male retreat, and to Crow’s sprawling ranch in East Texas. And Thomas typically spends about a week every summer at Crow’s private resort in the Adirondacks.

The extent and frequency of Crow’s apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These trips appeared nowhere on Thomas’ financial disclosures. His failure to report the flights appears to violate a law passed after Watergate that requires justices, judges, members of Congress and federal officials to disclose most gifts, two ethics law experts said. He also should have disclosed his trips on the yacht, these experts said.

Justice Thomas has not responded to requests for comments. Harlan Crow says this was just “hospitality,” not a bribe. This is just stuff he does for all his friends. Other high-level judges who commented for this article are pretty much gobsmacked.

Long an influential figure in pro-business conservative politics, Crow has spent millions on ideological efforts to shape the law and the judiciary. Crow and his firm have not had a case before the Supreme Court since Thomas joined it, though the court periodically hears major cases that directly impact the real estate industry. The details of his discussions with Thomas over the years remain unknown, and it is unclear if Crow has had any influence on the justice’s views.

In his statement, Crow said that he and his wife have never discussed a pending or lower court case with Thomas. “We have never sought to influence Justice Thomas on any legal or political issue,” he added.

The Washington Post has not independently confirmed ProPublica’s reporting, but adds some commentary.

Federal law mandates that top officials from the three branches of government, including the Supreme Court, file annual forms detailing their finances, outside income and spouses’ sources of income, with each branch determining its own reporting standards.

Judges are prohibited from accepting gifts from anyone with business before the court. Until recently, however, the judicial branch had not clearly defined an exemption for gifts considered “personal hospitality.”

Revised rules adopted by a committee of the Judicial Conference, the courts’ policymaking body, seek to provide a fuller accounting. The rules took effect March 14.

Gifts such as an overnight stay at a personal vacation home owned by a friend remain exempt from reporting requirements. But the revised rules require disclosure when judges are treated to stays at commercial properties, such as hotels, ski resorts or corporate hunting lodges. The changes also clarify that judges must report travel by private jet.

So, whether Thomas’s acceptance of “hospitality” strictly violated rules in place at the time is uncertain.

Congressional Democrats are calling for Thomas to resign, which of course he will not. Dick Durban says the Senate Judiciary Committee will take action.

Update: From Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern (boldface added):

We will doubtless spend a few news cycles expressing outrage that Harlan Crow has spent millions of dollars lavishing the Thomases with lux vacations and high-end travel and barely pretended to separate business and pleasure,giving half a million dollars to a Tea Party group founded by Ginni Thomas in 2011 (which funded her own $120,000 salary). But because the justices are left to police themselves and opt not to do so, we will turn to other matters in due time. Before the outrage dries up, however, it is worth zeroing in on two aspects of the ProPublica report that do have lasting legal implications. First, the same people who benefited from the lax status quo continue to fight against any meaningful reforms that might curb the justices’ gravy train. Second, the rules governing Thomas’ conduct over these years, while terribly insufficient, actually did require him to disclose at least some of these extravagant gifts. The fact that he ignored the rules anyway illustrates just how difficult it will be to force the justices to obey the law: Without the strong threat of enforcement, a putative public servant like Thomas will thumb his nose at the law.

It’s worth reading the whole thing. If you run into the Slate paywall  you should be able to read the article in an incognito window.

In other news: The Dominion defamation trial will begin April 17. David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo gives us the potential witness list:

  • Rupert Murdoch
  • Lachlan Murdoch
  • Tucker Carlson
  • Sean Hannity
  • Lou Dobbs
  • Maria Bartiromo
  • Jeanine Pirro
  • Bret Baier
  • Dana Perino
  • Paul Ryan (Yes, that one! He’s on the Fox board.)
  • Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott
  • Fox chief legal officer Viet Dinh

We don’t know these people will be required to testify, but they might. Should be a fun trial.