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GREENVILLE, S.C. - The passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday has shaken conservatives in Washington. Scalia was a larger than life, contagious personality who fought to defend the Constitution to his last. All of the 2016 presidential candidates have released statements to recognize his incredible record on the highest bench in the nation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was in the media filing center ahead of Saturday’s GOP debate in Greenville, SC to chat with some of the press before the anticipated event. Graham, who dropped out of the 2016 race weeks ago, has since endorsed former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL).
Graham didn’t just chat about the campaign cycle, however. Journalists asked him to weigh in on the now wide open Supreme Court. Can President Obama get a new justice approved before he leaves office? they wondered.
“If he can’t find a consensus choice,” Graham insisted, “it won’t happen.”
The senator indicated he is still bitter about Obama ushering in the rules change to a simple majority pick for appellate judges. That move, Graham said, “broke trust with him.” He went even further, calling it a “breach of power.”
“This should be wake up call for Republicans,” Graham said. “If you can’t win the White House, then this appointment is going to be made by a Democrat.”
He doesn’t trust Trump to appoint a conservative and he called Ted Cruz “unelectable.”
“Wake up and vote for someone who can win,” he emphasized.
If a Democrat does the win the White House, presumably frontrunner Hillary Clinton, Graham said he could find a way to compromise.
“If Hillary wins and picks a qualified candidate I’d vote for them,” he said.
Earlier today, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away from natural causes at the age of 79. In response to this tragedy, fellow Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was trending on Twitter as users expressed a desire that he be the next justice to die. Thomas, like Scalia, is a member of the Supreme Court's conservative wing.
Another nice thing about Antonin Scalia dying is that I can focus more of my energy on wishing that Clarence Thomas is next.— $pencer (@13spencer) February 14, 2016
Can Clarence Thomas be next?— ryan ?? (@MunchkinFunk) February 13, 2016
And I hope that sexual predator Clarence Thomas is next.— Ivan Hernandez (@ivan_hernandez) February 13, 2016
Supreme Court Justice Scalia finally gets his 'Judgement Day' & finds out god is a gay black female. Is Clarence Thomas next? Dare I hope?— Serenity (@nschim) February 13, 2016
Fingers crossed Clarence Thomas is next!— De-pro9 (@Deprogrammer9) February 13, 2016
Somebody should stand next to Clarence Thomas at Scalia's funeral and whisper "your turn".— Tay. (@KafterT) February 14, 2016
After three decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia has died.
The overwhelming question hanging over partisan Washington gridlock and a heated presidential election is now, of course, what's next?
There are a number of things and options to keep in mind as we move forward. 1) Obama will move quickly and likely already has a name for his preferred nominee ready to go 2) The Senate can demand the nominee be a compromise 3) The Majority Leader and the Senate can delay or refuse to confirm Obama's nominee. This by default has the potential to run out the clock on Obama's second term before another nominee can be appointed and confirmed by the Senate.
Historically, most presidents nominate within a week of a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Bush 43 did. So did Obama.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 13, 2016
Take this a step at a time.— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 13, 2016
(1) No recess appointments. (McConnell controls this.)
(2) Demand a compromise nominee.
(Obama controls this.)
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has released a statement, saying the vacancy should not be filled until Americans choose the next president.
"Today our country lost an unwavering champion of a timeless document that unites each of us as Americans. Justice Scalia's fidelity to the Constitution was rivaled only by the love of his family: his wife Maureen his nine children, and his many grandchildren. Through the sheer force of his intellect and his legendary wit, this giant of American jurisprudence almost singlehandedly revived an approach to constitutional interpretation that prioritized the text and original meaning of the Constitution. Elaine and I send our deepest condolences to the entire Scalia family," McConnell released in a statement. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President.”
To be clear, McConnell and the Senate have the constitutional authority to block confirmation of a nominee from Obama. They do not have the constitutional authority to keep Obama from issuing a nomination. The President has the right to appoint a nominee and the Senate has the right to block a nominee, either by vote or by refusing to bring the nomination up for a vote on the floor.
During Tyler's presidency Supreme Court vacancies lasted 424 days and 835 days!— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 14, 2016
During Tyler's presidency Supreme Court vacancies lasted 424 days and 835 days!— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) February 14, 2016
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away due to natural causes on Saturday at a ranch in Texas. He was 79.
Ahead of the GOP primary debate in Greenville, SC, the candidates released statements mourning Scalia's passing:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX):
Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, & the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 13, 2016
The totally unexpected loss of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a massive setback for the Conservative movement and our COUNTRY!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2016
Official statement released on his website:
I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to the Scalia family after the passing of Justice Scalia. Justice Scalia was a remarkable person and a brilliant Supreme Court Justice, one of the best of all time. His career was defined by his reverence for the Constitution and his legacy of protecting Americans’ most cherished freedoms. He was a Justice who did not believe in legislating from the bench and he is a person whom I held in the highest regard and will always greatly respect his intelligence and conviction to uphold the Constitution of our country. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this time.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL):
Official statement released on his website:
I am saddened to hear the news about Justice Antonin Scalia. We have lost a great man and a great Supreme Court Justice. For the past three decades, his towering intellect and trenchant wit has characterized the deliberations and decisions of the high court. He made Americans proud, not only because he gave to the court the power and persuasion of his brilliant legal mind, but because he defended the Constitution with an unshakeable commitment to the text and to the intent of the Founders.
In an age where it is popular to subscribe to a "living Constitution" and during a time when political and judicial leaders prefer legal decisions that are politically convenient, Justice Scalia always dutifully carried out his responsibilities to interpret the law, not to make new ones. Time and again, he ruled based on where the black letter of the law led him, not according to the politics of the moment. For that reason, he has angered Americans on both the left and the right, but he has never wavered in his dedication to the Constitution.
It is imperative that the Senate not allow President Obama to diminish Justice Scalia’s legacy by trying to nominate an individual who would carry on the President’s wishes to subvert the will of the people. Given the dire condition our democracy currently finds itself under Obama's lack of leadership, I call on the Senate to stop any attempts to fill this crucial seat until We The People elect a strong Constitutionalist this November.
We will miss him sorely. We pray for his family and friends, and we pray for America, which today lost a patriot and a faithful servant.
Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also offered condolences to Scalia's family and the other Supreme Court justices.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
My thoughts and prayers are with Justice Scalia's family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing. pic.twitter.com/Y51xUMMEId— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 13, 2016
Hillary Clinton's statement on Scalia says Senate "has a constitutional responsibility" not to block a replacement. pic.twitter.com/Z9oqPp7upR— Hunter Walker (@hunterw) February 14, 2016
This post will be updated.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died, the San Antonio Express-News reported on Saturday afternoon. He was 79.
Scalia passed away in his sleep while on a hunting trip in Marfa, Texas. Foul play is not suspected.
Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa, the paper reported.
According to a report, Scalia, an associate justice, arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body.
The U.S. Marshal Service, the Presidio County sheriff and the FBI were involved in the investigation, the paper reported.
Scalia was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1986. He was the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), released a statement extending condolences to the Scalia family:
A statement from Chief Justice John Roberts:
Resquiescat in pace.
This story has been updated.
GREENVILLE, S.C. - I'm here in downtown Greenville ahead of Saturday night's GOP presidential debate at The Peace Center. Down the street from the venue, a flurry of "Trump" signs led me to his local campaign headquarters. Hundreds of visitors have been filing in and out since this morning, organizers told me. One receptionist said "she's never seen anything like it" since she started working there a month ago.
All ages were walking through the HQ, many of whom were eager to take pictures with the lifesize cutout of Trump in the lobby.
"We won't be swayed tonight," one Trump supporter said, speaking for his family. Meaning, no matter what happens at tonight's debate, Trump is their guy. "Jeb's not going to get anything done" and Rubio "doesn't have the experience," he said, dismissing the Republican frontrunner's opponents.
Why do so many South Carolinians have Trump fever? I asked several people who were picking up Trump bumper stickers and yard signs and the most frequent responses focused on two issues: The economy and, his most vocal issue, immigration.
In fact, the first person I talked to said only one word when I asked him why Trump had his vote: "Immigration."
Trump's campaign seems to be well aware that his anti-amnesty stance has hit a nerve with his supporters. They encouraged visitors at the local headquarters to open a binder on the table that had a list of reforms Trump intends to make as president. The very first tab outlined his plans for immigration.
A group of young male students from South Carolina's Furman University echoed that sentiment. One of the young men said he's voting for the businessman because of his strong stance on ISIS and immigration.
"He's going to build a wall," he said.
"Is Mexico going to pay for it?" I asked.
"No," he laughed. "I'd like to see some of Trump's money go toward it."
Interestingly, one of the other students said he's torn between Trump and Bernie Sanders. Why? He said simply because "he's a millennial" and he likes the Washington outsiders.
Most other visitors at the HQ, however, agreed that we cannot let Sanders or Hillary Clinton win in November. One gentleman scoffed at Sanders' offering his supporters "free ice cream, free college," etc.
"What are they, elementary children?" he said.
Other voters I spoke with said they are huge fans of Trump's no nonsense rhetoric.
"He says what's on everyone's mind," one visitor noted.
In just a few hours, we'll see if Trump continues telling it like its when he joins the stage with his five remaining opponents, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson and John Kasich.
I'll be covering the debate live here in Greenville. Stay put at Townhall for coverage.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has settled his lawsuit against the television network Univision. Univision refused to broadcast the Miss Universe pageant following Trump's comments about Mexicans. The suit was settled for an undisclosed sum.
On Saturday, Trump took to Twitter, saying all was well between himself and the network and that he "looked forward" to appearing on Univison for an interview. He then deleted the tweets.
A screenshot, via Politwoops:
So while things may be smoothed out legally for Trump, it's unclear as to whether or not he'll ever appear on Univison.
I swung by Megyn Kelly's show last night and chatted with guest host Sandra Smith about this evening's South Carolina debate -- the last high-profile test prior to that state's primary election next weekend. Reliable, recent polling is surprisingly scarce in the state, where Donald Trump appears poised to rack up his second consecutive victory. What must each candidate accomplish on CBS tonight? My take, via Right Sightings:
Our own Cortney O'Brien is on the ground in the Palmetto State, where she'll be leading our Townhall team coverage throughout and after the forum. Here's a glimpse of the scene outside the venue:
And who wants a little pop culture mixed in?
Follow Cortney's tweets and posts all night.
An interesting piece from Colin Cowherd's sports talk show "The Herd" gives a great example of how ideas like socialism only make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Look no further than in men's college football to see what happens when heavy restrictions are put on teams and corporations to try and level the playing field.
"They have enacted all sorts of rules for 30 years to make it even, let's see if it's worked: Alabama is, in the last five years, 62-7. Three titles," Colin said. "That's weird, so we enact all these changes to hurt the powerful, and Alabama has never been more powerful."
As an Alabama fan, I certainly enjoy the 'rich get richer' mentality when it comes to my favorite sports team. However, I do not believe this is exactly what our founding fathers intended.
Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has vetoed legislation to make West Virginia the 26th right-to-work state, but was quickly overridden by the Republican legislature. For bills that don’t deal with budgetary matters or appropriations, a simple majority is needed to override a veto. The state senate had already done so. And the State House of Delegates was expected to follow suit, given that there are 64 Republican members. The law goes into effect July 1 (via Metro News):
The House of Delegates and state Senate made quick work of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s vetoes on the bills that will repeal the state’s prevailing wage and make West Virginia a right to work state in votes taken during Friday’s floor sessions.
The Republican-controlled Senate overrode both vetoes on an 18-16 party line vote while the House voted 55-44 to override prevailing wage and 54-43 to do the same with the right to work bill.
Both now will become law. On July 1, West Virginia will become the 26th state to become right to work while the current prevailing wage will be repealed in about three months.
After debating the right to work bill for more than five hours last week, House members were mainly quiet before the veto override vote.
So, in the era of fighting radical Islamic terrorism, the Obama administration reportedly told workers at the Department of Homeland Security to scrub the records of Muslims with terror ties; information that’s been collected for years, according to Philip Haney. Haney broke his silence on the matter last week in The Hill, where he said that the president’s remarks that the intelligence community couldn’t connect the dots post-underwear bomber in 2009 was infuriating since these actions would remove any chance at doing so. Haney had been a DHS employee for 15 years:
Twenty-three-year old Nigerian Muslim Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab intended to detonate Northwest Airlines Flight 253, but the explosives in his underwear malfunctioned and brave passengers subdued him until he could be arrested. The graphic and traumatic defeat they planned for the United States failed, that time.
Following the attempted attack, President Obama threw the intelligence community under the bus for its failure to “connect the dots.” He said, “this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”
Most Americans were unaware of the enormous damage to morale at the Department of Homeland Security, where I worked, his condemnation caused. His words infuriated many of us because we knew his administration had been engaged in a bureaucratic effort to destroy the raw material—the actual intelligence we had collected for years, and erase those dots. The dots constitute the intelligence needed to keep Americans safe, and the Obama administration was ordering they be wiped away.
Just before that Christmas Day attack, in early November 2009, I was ordered by my superiors at the Department of Homeland Security to delete or modify several hundred records of individuals tied to designated Islamist terror groups like Hamas from the important federal database, the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). These types of records are the basis for any ability to “connect dots.”
As the number of successful and attempted Islamic terrorist attacks on America increased, the type of information that the Obama administration ordered removed from travel and national security databases was the kind of information that, if properly assessed, could have prevented subsequent domestic Islamist attacks like the ones committed by Faisal Shahzad (May 2010), Detroit “honor killing” perpetrator Rahim A. Alfetlawi (2011); Amine El Khalifi, who plotted to blow up the U.S. Capitol (2012); Dzhokhar or Tamerlan Tsarnaev who conducted the Boston Marathon bombing (2013); Oklahoma beheading suspect Alton Nolen (2014); or Muhammed Yusuf Abdulazeez, who opened fire on two military installations in Chattanooga, Tennessee (2015).
Now, this is just one account, albeit a devastating one. It shows that the Obama administration isn’t doing what many feel right now–keeping the country safe. Nevertheless, we shall see if anything more comes of this.
The FBI is investigating Somali-born assailant Mohamed Barry, 30, as a possible "lone wolf" terrorist after he attacked four people at a busy Ohio restaurant Thursday night.
According to CNN:
Authorities are investigating Thursday's machete attack at a Columbus, Ohio restaurant as a potential "lone wolf" terror attack. His motive remains unclear, but investigators are trying to determine if the Nazareth Restaurant & Deli was chosen under the mistaken belief the restaurant had a Jewish owner.
Appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show today, President Obama was read a love poem from his wife, Michelle, and explained why he wouldn't be speaking at his daughter Malia's graduation from the Sidwell Friends School later this spring. According to Obama, who considers his eldest daughter to be one of his best friends, he turned down an offer to speak at her graduation because he will be "sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing."
Obama also revealed that he has considered going out in disguise and talked about how hard it will be to send daughter Malia off to college in the fall.
"She's one of my best friends. It's going to be hard for me not to have her around all the time, but she's ready to go," Obama said of his 17-year-old daughter, a senior at the exclusive Sidwell Friends School in Washington. "She's just a really smart, capable person and she's ready to make her own way."
He said he declined an invitation to speak at her upcoming graduation. "I said 'absolutely not,' because I'm going to be sitting there with dark glasses, sobbing," Obama said.
Malia, 17, has not yet announced where she will be attending college, but visited some pretty prestigious schools during her college application process.
At the end of the day, despite partisan differences, it's important to remember that the president is still a human being with normal, fatherly feelings.
Pro-life women leaders are once again urging voters to choose “anyone but Trump” in the 2016 race. The coalition, made up of advocates from groups like Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America, sent out an urgent anti-Trump letter to voters ahead of the Iowa Caucus last month, which they say led to a “slowdown in momentum” for the outspoken billionaire. They’re hoping to have the same success in South Carolina.
Dear South Carolina voters,
As pro-life women leaders from South Carolina and across the nation, we urge Republican primary voters to support anyone but Donald Trump. On the issue of defending unborn children and protecting women from the violence of abortion, Mr. Trump cannot be trusted and there is, thankfully, an abundance of alternative candidates with proven records of pro-life leadership whom pro-life voters can support. We have come to this conclusion after having listened patiently to numerous debates and news reports, but most importantly to Donald Trump’s own words.
The letter goes on to list a few more specific reasons as to why Trump is not the right candidate for the pro-life movement – the most egregious of which being his desire to place his sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, on the Supreme Court. Barry is hardly a pro-life warrior – she once struck down the common sense Partial Birth Abortion ban in New Jersey.
The open letter was signed by the following pro-life activists. Will they be able to disrupt Trump's current double-digit lead in The Palmetto State?
Marjorie Dannenfelser, President, Susan B. Anthony List
Tami Fitzgerald, North Carolina State Director, Susan B. Anthony List
Maggie Gallagher, Columnist and author
Rep. Donna Hicks, South Carolina District 37
Laura Beth Kirsop, Chairman of the Upstate Young Republicans & Pro-life Advocate
Andrea Lafferty, President, Traditional Values Coalition
Beverly LaHaye, Founder and Chairman, Concerned Women for America
Aimee Murphy, Founder, Life Matters Journal
Marilyn Musgrave, Fmr. Congresswoman, VP of Government Affairs, Susan B. Anthony List
Penny Nance, President and CEO, Concerned Women for America
Melissa Ohden, Abortion Survivor and Pro-life Activist & Speaker
Star Parker, Founder and President, Urbancure
Tonya Shellnutt, State Director, Concerned Women for America South Carolina
Jill Stanek, National Campaign Chair, Susan B. Anthony List
Rep. Wendy Nanney, South Carolina District 22
Longshot Republican presidential candidate Jim Gilmore has suspended his campaign for president after only 12 people voted for him the New Hampshire primary, reports The Des Moines Register.
The former governor of Virginia only made it onto the debate stage twice due to his poor polling. Here's a bit more about his political history before running for the highest office in the land:
Gilmore's exit from the race marks the latest disappointing campaign in a political career that once elevated him to national prominence. Elected governor of Virginia in 1997, Gilmore was chosen by then-President-elect George W. Bush in December 2000 to take the helm of the Republican National Committee. His tenure as party chief, however, was rocky and brief, and after reportedly clashing with White House aides like Karl Rove, he resigned the post after just a year on the job.
Six candidates remain in the running.
The next GOP contest is the South Carolina primary, where Donald Trump is ahead by double digits.
Well, in case you didn’t watch PBS’ Democratic debate last night, a possible felon and a disheveled 74-year-old senior citizen held another debate, where they found agreement, but also yelled at each other over how to drag America to the left on certain areas of public policy.
As taxpayers, it’s a friendly reminder that throughout the two-hour debate not a single question was asked about the Department of Justice’s investigation into Hillary’s probable mishandling of classified information. Instead, moderator Gwen Ifill decided to ask about the candidates about the resentments of white people.
To be clear, this is a pertinent question for the former first lady, who’s facing three separate federal investigations related to her private email system. Two stem from the State Department and the other emanating from the FBI. It was revealed yesterday that State slapped the Clinton Foundation with a subpoena last fall, where they asked for documents relating to projects that might have needed approval from the government while Hillary was serving as Secretary of State. Chris Cillizza explains why the latest development comes at a bad time (via WaPo):
It furthers the "where there's smoke, there's fire" argument. This hurts Clinton both coming and going. For Republicans, it hands them yet another way to suggest that something untoward is going on with Clinton. For Democrats, it increases their anxiety about the possibility of nominating someone who could fall under an ethical cloud just as the party is trying to elect them to the White House.
* It makes it increasingly difficult for Clinton, as she has done since the revelation that she had a private email server broke a year ago, to cast the questions raised about her time at State as simply a partisan fishing expedition. "There is a concerted effort to try to make partisan advantage by really trying to throw so much at me that even if little splotches of it stick, it will cloud peoples's judgment of me," Clinton told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow this week. "That is a burden I carry."
There is, without question, a desire on the part of many Republicans to cast Clinton in the worst possible light using almost any means necessary. But it strains credulity to believe that Republicans somehow concocted a way to get the State Department and the FBI to look into Clinton's tenure at State.
As I wrote in this space this week, at some point Clinton will need to directly face down the fact that it's not just Republicans who are talking about her emails or her paid speeches or the Clinton Foundation. The numbers coming out of the New Hampshire exit poll make plain that Democratic voters care about honesty in their politicians, and those that prize it the most are voting heavily against Clinton.
Yet, apparently this didn’t warrant a question from Ifill, or the co-moderator Judy Woodruff last night. So, there’s your taxpayer-funded news for you, folks.
Katie delivered a punch to the gut when she wrote yesterday that a majority of Millennials prefers socialism to capitalism. Yes, in one sense, it makes me want to round up left-leaning members of my generation, lock them in a barn, and set it on fire* (but let’s not go there). To make matters worse, we have a Vox/Morning Consult poll showing that most are open to a political revolution to steal other people’s money (via Vox):
Fifty-four percent of respondents to our online poll — which reached a sample of 1,884 registered voters nationally from Friday, January 29, through Sunday, January 31, 2016 — agreed that a "political revolution might be necessary to redistribute money from the wealthiest Americans to the middle class." Just 30 percent said they disagreed.
Liberals and liberal-leaning demographics were most likely to agree with the statement. But majorities of independents, white voters, evangelicals, and even Tea Party supporters in our sample agreed too — showing that redistribution may no longer be a dirty word in American politics.
Of course, keep in mind that responses to a poll statement in a vacuum may differ quite a bit from how people will feel after hearing political debate and messaging from both sides.
And the poll contained one troubling result for Sanders. When people were asked whether big government or big business was a bigger threat to the country's future, 55 percent named big government, compared with only 29 percent who named big business — suggesting the country hasn't moved so far to the left after all, and that an agenda that will expand government remains a tough sell.
If you watched PBS’ Democratic debate last night, a Facebook user asked if there were any areas of government that Clinton or Sanders would cut. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) gave the typical pro-efficient government talking point, which is code for I support HUGE government. Not to mention, the man is a democratic socialist; there are virtually zero areas where government should be cut for people of this persuasion. Lastly, this is the Democratic Party; folks who believe that more centralization of federal power is good, especially in the hands of a progressive few who will bring social justice to all peoples. So, we shouldn’t be shocked that they’re not going to minimize government’s scope in any way, shape, or form. Yet, I am a bit unnerved that some members of the Tea Party are voicing support for this left wing charade of revolution to redistribute wealth.
I guess the silver linings here are that a) those who call themselves Tea Partiers, who agree with this nonsense, were never true conservatives to begin with and b) big government is still more feared than big business.
*Of course...I'm kidding, folks
Editor's Note: This post has been updated.
Yes, I know that there’s no such thing as assault weapons, but let’s just entertain this awful piece of liberal jargon for the sake of argument. Over at Hot Air, Jazz Shaw noted that it might be time for the high court to definitively rule on whether it was a constitutional right for Americans to own AR-15 rifles.
Second Amendment enthusiasts were again hit with disappointment last December when the Court decided to take a pass on whether to hear oral arguments on an assault weapons ban implemented in the Chicago-area city of Highland Park. Now, on the east coast, deep-blue Maryland’s 2013 assault weapons ban is back in the legal crosshairs, with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that a stricter legal standard should have been applied to ascertain its constitutionality. It’s a tremendous decision, though the current ban remains in effect while the legal camps begin arming themselves for the fight ahead.
For starters, as we rehash the legal fight over Maryland’s ban, we’ll have to take another look at the caveats placed by the Supreme Court during the landmark DC v. Heller case, which guaranteed an individual right to own firearms in the defense of one’s life or property that are not associated with a well-regulated militia. This was applied to federal enclaves; it was expanded to the states in the McDonald v. Chicago decision.
Yet, the Court noted that this right was not unlimited, and that certain limitations on weapons considered “dangerous and unusual” could pass constitutional muster. Grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, and atomic weapons fit this category, not AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. Yet, as Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate, it’s dubious whether the Supremes will get involved in Kolbe v. Hogan. It’s certainly a possibility, and it offers another legal avenue for Second Amendment supporters to make their case for a broader ruling over the entire country concerning the legality of assault weapons bans. On a side note, Ms. Lithwick, like most left-of-center publications, need to brush up on their firearms nomenclature (of which I sometimes screw up) right:
Turning to Heller’s caveat that “dangerous and unusual” weapons might not be protected under the Second Amendment, the majority notes that the district court erroneously believed that semi-automatic rifles are too dangerous “based on evidence that they unleash greater destructive force than other firearms and appear to be disproportionately connected to mass shootings.” The 4th Circuit then argued that since handguns kill far more people than semi-automatic weapons, and that since Heller made handgun ownership constitutional, the less overall deadly semi-automatic assault weapons must not be dangerous and unusual either.
Writing alone in dissent Judge Robert B. King is unequivocal: “Let’s be real: The assault weapons banned by Maryland’s FSA are exceptionally lethal weapons of war. In fact, the most popular of the prohibited semiautomatic rifles, the AR-15, functions almost identically to the military’s fully automatic M16.” He also notes that the Supreme Court specifically called out M16 rifles in Heller when defining “dangerous and unusual.”
Judge King concluded his opinion on a regretful note of warning: “To put it mildly, it troubles me that, by imprudently and unnecessarily breaking from our sister courts of appeals and ordering strict scrutiny here, we are impeding Maryland’s and others’ reasonable efforts to prevent the next Newtown—or Virginia Tech, or Binghamton, or Fort Hood, or Tucson, or Aurora, or Oak Creek, or San Bernardino.”
As Linda Greenhouse mused when the court declined to take the Illinois case back in December, the fact that the court couldn’t muster four votes to review the Highland Park assault ban implies “that one or more of the justices who signed on to Justice Scalia’s strained reading of history seven years ago in District of Columbia v. Heller are reacting to the country’s bullet-ridden landscape by showing symptoms of buyer’s remorse.”
Greenhouse also argued that the split between Thomas and Scalia—who desperately wanted to hear the case—and the silent conservatives who had also voted to strike down the handgun ban in Heller, reflected “the chasm on the conservative flank between, on the one hand, two justices who embrace all-out judicial activism and, on the other, those who are willing to wait and see.”
We will all have to wait and see what happens next in the Kolbe appeal, and whether it becomes the vehicle for the high court to bless the constitutional principle that the only thing better than a nation teeming with assault weapons is the logic that holds that lethal assault weapons are so common and so very useful that they must also be safe and ordinary.
First, there are no weapons that are “less deadly semiautomatic” weapons, unless you’re referring to bolt-action rifles, commonly associated with hunting, or muzzle-loaders, of which no one has really used en masse since the 18th and 19th centuries.
Second, most handguns in circulation are semiautomatic (self-reloading). An AR-15 rifle is also a semiautomatic weapon, which is why this argument that the AR-15 and the M16 are pretty much the same is so silly. An M16 rifle, the ones used by our military, can fire multiple rounds per trigger pull. There are other firearms that will continue to fire as long as the trigger is pulled (aka automatic) as well. That makes these weapon systems wholly different from the AR-15, not identical. And, yes, automatic firearms for civilians are legal if you are willing to undergo the long process overseen by the ATF, wherein you pay a tax and have your weapons catalogued in a database. The background check can take up to a year or more.
Given that that handguns and the civilian AR-15 rifle are both self-reloading weapons systems, will liberals honestly make the "it looks scary" argument? That would be hilarious. Additionally, as Jazz noted, there is no public safety issue here. Rifles and shotguns are rarely used in criminal acts, and gun homicides have been almost cut in half since the early 1990s. The gun homicide rate has dropped by 3.9 percent from last year, according to the FBI.
Yet, in the case that this comes before the Court, Lithwick aptly noted that if our side couldn’t muster four votes for the Highland Park case–it shows that we might have trouble regarding keeping the pro-Second Amendment wing of the Court in line.
While many of us abhor these bans, it’s very easy to see a judge make the argument for them, stating that because handguns and shotguns are still readily available for civilian use in areas with such assault weapons bans–the law might be fine given the principles of federalism. Yes, residents of Highland Park might not be able to own AR-15s, but if they can still own handguns and shotguns for personal protection, the former of which is more widely used by civilians (and more practical regarding carrying), why should we interfere with a state or local ordinance? Moreover, is the Second Amendment is truly being infringed if handguns and shotguns can still be owned in areas where these so-called assault weapons are banned? All 50 states, including Washington D.C. have carry rights*, albeit more restrictive in some areas than others, so is there really a legal question that nine lifetime appointed legal minds need to make a judgement on right now? It's perfectly legal for a handful of deep-blue states to be stupid and ban these weapon. They already have.
Of course, I’m against this argument. Law-abiding Americans should have the right to own any firearm they choose, and carry those firearms in all 50 states. I want national reciprocity, but our successes in the courts have provided a sort-of double-edged sword. A federal judge in Cook County struck down Chicago’s ordinance banning gun sales within the city limits due to infringements on Second Amendment rights, Heller, McDonald, and the Ninth Circuit ruled that current gun owners and permit holders being subjected to California’s 10-day waiting period was a violation of their right to bear arms; there is a consensus. There is little question regarding what the Second Amendment means in our court system (though that doesn’t mean we should let our guard down), so it’s quite possible that nothing may come of the Kolbe case as there is nothing to be settled. There is an opening for oral arguments; we just might be surprised. But given how SCOTUS reacted initially to Highland Park and the few petitions concerning concealed carry–we shouldn’t hold be shocked if nothing changes. If they do decide to take up Kolbe in the future, it’s tremendous news; if not, well, its just business as usual regarding gun rights on the Court.
Yes, this is sort of a wet blanket post, but let's not try to get overly excited. The door can once again be shut in our faces.
*Oh, and that’s another Second Amendment battle the Supremes have refused to hear–which is whether “justifiable need” clauses in may issue carry states are unconstitutional.
Congress has acted to expand sanctions against North Korea after the nations’ daring satellite launch last weekend. The bill passed the Senate Wednesday with a unanimous vote of 56-0 and then overwhelmingly in the House, 408-2.
CNN provides a few details regarding the new restrictions:
The legislation requires the President to investigate sanctionable conduct by North Korea, including proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuse, cybersecurity attacks, and other actions. It also mandates sanctions against anyone involved and steps up enforcement of these sanctions.
House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the bill Friday, insisting it was a necessary step because the president’s strategy of “strategic patience” with North Korea is simply not working.
Earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee with a warning that North Korea was on a dangerous path to restarting their plutonium reactor.
In a nice change of routine, President Obama is not expected to veto the bill.
Some Friday fun: Here's a Bernie Sanders-themed parody of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," titled "Hold Me Closer, Bernie Sanders."
This election is something else, eh?
Pope Francis has landed in Cuba for a brief visit before the start of his papal visit to Mexico. The Cuba trip was a relatively last-minute addition to His Holiness' itinerary, and while visiting the island nation he had a historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is the first meeting between the two leaders in 962 years.
The meeting was announced last week, on February 5.
Prior to the meeting, the Bishop of Rome tweeted that Wednesday was a "day of grace" and that the meeting was a "gift from God." He also asked for prayers.
Today is a day of grace. The meeting with Patriarch Kirill is a gift from God. Pray for us.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) February 12, 2016
The meeting is expected to last for two hours, and is private, but Catholic News Service tweeted images of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill greeting each other. Pope Francis told Patriarch Kirill "we are brothers."
Pope Francis tells Patriarch Kirill: "Somos hermanos" (We are brothers) pic.twitter.com/AYCwWhahi4— Catholic News Svc (@CatholicNewsSvc) February 12, 2016
While Wednesday marked the first meeting between the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and the pope in nearly a millennia, Pope Francis has been active in his efforts to establish communication with the Orthodox churches. In 2013, Pope Francis extended an invitation to Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I to attend his papal inaugural Mass, which he did. This marked the first time an eastern patriarch had attended a papal installation since Constantinople split from Rome in 1054.
While it's uncertain as to what will come from this meeting, it's certainly a positive step forward.
Following the meeting, the Vicar of Christ will continue on to Mexico, where he is expected to stay until February 17th.
Katie mentioned last December how UnitedHealth Group Inc. was expecting hundreds of million in losses, and the possibility of withdrawing from the Affordable Care Act marketplace by 2017, since Obamacare isn’t becoming more affordable. More Americans are seeing paying the penalty to remain uninsured as the better economic choice than enrolling with insurance programs that have seen nothing but premium hikes.
Guy has written extensively about the unmitigated catastrophe that is the Affordable Care Act, which is a government policy saga dotted with nothing but premium hikes–even hitting plans considered cheap. The exchanges are a mess, and the enrollment projections for this year have been reduced by 8 million. Now, we have Blue Cross’s CEO bracing for financial disaster in North Carolina, of which his company is the state’s largest insurer, who might stop selling Obamacare policies altogether. Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the only insurer who sells ACA plans in all 100 counties (via The News and Observer):
Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer, expects to report its second consecutive financial loss in the coming weeks, as the company contends with continuing cost overruns under the Affordable Care Act, CEO Brad Wilson said Wednesday.
Wilson warned that Blue Cross cannot continue sustaining financial losses indefinitely in North Carolina and may have to decide later this year whether to get out of the ACA market in 2017. Blue Cross raised rates by an average 32.5 percent this year in the state, but Wilson said that wasn’t enough to stem losses.
VIDEO: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina president and CEO J. Bradley (Brad) Wilson talks to the News and Observer editorial board Wednesday, February 10, 2016 about the first years of working with the ACA, running a profitable business and a possible insurance rate increase. Harry Lynch The News and Observer
“We can’t offer something for sale in this marketplace that we know every time it’s purchased we’re losing money,” Wilson said.
A move by Blue Cross to stop offering federally subsidized policies would force more than 300,000 North Carolina residents to try other insurers, if they still offer ACA coverage, or revert to being uninsured. A withdrawal by Blue Cross would be acutely felt, as it’s the only insurer under the ACA that offers coverage in all 100 counties in the state.
Wilson said the size of the rate increase approved this fall by the N.C. Department of Insurance for next year would likely determine Blue Cross’s ACA strategy. He said the company will have to assess whether the rate increase the agency approves “makes sense” for the company.
The expenditures Wilson’s company undertook were astronomical, with him saying, “In year one , five percent of our ACA customers consumed $830 million in health care costs. That’s how much money went out of our door to pay for the heath care for the sickest five percent of the ACA population that we had; we collected $75 million in premiums–between what they could contribute and the government subsidy. Any way you cut it that’s an unsustainable business model.”
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) made a proposal Thursday that will surely ruffle the feathers of those on welfare in this country. The proposed plan would require food stamp recipients to be subject to drug testing.
"This is a compassionate way to try and help these people who have issues, instead of turning the head," Rep. Aderholt said.
The food stamps program, officially known as SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides funding assistance for low-income families which totals to nearly 46 million or 1 in 9 Americans. The average monthly SNAP payment in the U.S. is $125.35 per participant. SNAP costs the U.S. government about $74 billion last year, double what it did in the first year of President Obama's administration.
Tom Vilsack, head of the USDA, questioned Rep. Aderholt's plan. "What other programs that we (USDA) supports or provide assistance to are we going to require drug testing?" Vilsack said. "It's a situation of equity. We're not sure what problem we're trying to solve here."
Update: A tragic update to this story, via CNN:
Two 15-year-old female students were killed in Friday morning's shooting at Independence High School in Glendale, Arizona, said Glendale police Officer Tracey Breeden.
Police in Glendale, Arizona are investigating reports about a double shooting at Independence High School Friday morning where two teens have reportedly been shot.
Glendale Police have indicated the situation is under control.
We are investigating a double shooting at Independance HS. The incident was isolated. The school and neighborhood are safe.— Glendale Police (@GlendaleAZPD) February 12, 2016
The campus is currently on lockdown.
More details to come.