Connect with us

National

Will Obama appeal DOMA court rulings?

Justice Dept. has until Oct. 12 to decide

Published

on

President Obama’s commitment to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act is likely to come under enhanced scrutiny next week when the U.S. Justice Department announces its decision on whether or not it will appeal federal court rulings against the statute.

Legal experts across the board are expecting the administration to appeal the decisions as many LGBT advocates grumble that the defense of DOMA in court undermines Obama’s campaign pledge to advocate for same-sex couples.

Richard Socarides, a gay New York attorney and former adviser to President Clinton, said he expects the Justice Department to appeal the cases because he believes the administration hasn’t shown any signs of changing its position after defending DOMA at the district court level.

“I think that they’re going to continue to battle the gay rights movement in the courts,” Socarides said. “I think it continues to be one of the most unfortunate decisions of the president’s entire first two years in office and really something that is perhaps the most troubling part of these first two years of his presidency.”

Socarides said he doesn’t think the administration is compelled to appeal the decisions to the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals even as he acknowledged that debate has taken place over whether the president can decide against upholding a federal statute.

“I think that it’s clear now that the president has the option of declining to defend laws that he believes are not constitutional,” Socarides said. “This law has now been declared unconstitutional, so he could agree with the federal district court … and choose not to defend it.”

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, also predicted the administration will appeal the decisions made in the DOMA cases because he believes Justice Department officials think they’re required to do so.

Still, Wolfson said the extent to which the Justice Department defends DOMA at the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals would be an appropriate gauge to determine the Obama administration’s commitment to supporting LGBT people.

“I think the Justice Department can argue they have to appeal, but they should not be trying to win at all costs, and they should urge the court to adopt a presumption of unconstitutionality for the cruel exclusion from marriage that they themselves admit is discrimination,” Wolfson said.

On July 8, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in two separate cases — Gill v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services — that the part of DOMA prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The Obama administration defended DOMA when both those cases came before the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts.

In response to a query on the whether the administration would appeal the rulings, the White House deferred comment to the Justice Department, which didn’t respond.

The deadline for making a decision in the Commonwealth case — filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley — is Oct. 12.

The Justice Department doesn’t have to appeal the decision in the Gill case, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, until Oct. 18 because the court didn’t enter judgment in the case until later.

Still, Lee Swislow, GLAD’s executive director, said her organization is anticipating the Obama administration will announce its decision for both cases at the same time.

“From an efficiency point of view, the cases are clearly connected and it would make sense for the government to appeal both of them on the same day,” she said.

Announcing a decision to appeal both cases at the same time would also limit the amount of negative press the White House would receive to one day as opposed to stringing out criticism over a series of days.

Swislow said she’s expecting the administration to appeal both lawsuits and said doing so means the Justice Department is doing its duty of defending federal laws.

“I don’t think you can read much into it in terms of the administration’s support in general of LGBT rights,” she said. “From a legal point of view, they have to defend the law or write an official letter to Congress on why they’re not appealing.”

After the Justice Department appeals the decisions to the First Circuit, Swislow said she expects a series of briefs will be filed to the appellate court on both sides, including friend-of-the-court briefs from supporters and opponents of DOMA.

Once oral arguments take place, those involved with the litigation will await the decision of the court.

“We could have a decision anywhere from a year from now to a year-and-a-half from now if they follow their average, and that’s all we have to go on is how long it usually takes at the First Circuit court,” Swislow said.

Once the First Circuit has made its rulings, Swislow said deciding whether or not to appeal the case further to the U.S. Supreme Court would be different for the Obama administration.

Swislow said Justice Department officials could say they’ve “done their job” and not challenge the ruling further — even as she acknowledged her organization would love a win for the cases at the Supreme Court.

“If we win at the First Circuit Court of Appeals, the question of whether to take it to the Supreme Court or not, I think, is a different calculation,” she said.

Even as many LGBT rights supporters bemoan the administration’s defense of DOMA, others say continued support for the law in court could have some advantages.

Defenders of the Obama administration have said defending anti-gay laws such as DOMA sets a precedent that would prevent future administrations from allowing litigation against pro-laws to go unchallenged.

In an article about the future of litigation against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was quoted last week in Politico as suggesting the administration’s defense of the law in court would allow the federal hate crimes law to stay on the books.

“What happens when there’s a legal challenge to, say, hate crimes [law] in a next administration, a possible Republican administration?” Sarvis reportedly said. “Will they defend the federal statute?”

Swislow expressed similar beliefs that defending DOMA would set a precedent for subsequent administrations that could be hostile to LGBT rights.

“We expect them to defend this case and we’re not mad at them for defending this case, and, yes, the process of the Justice Department — that mandate, really — to defend the law can help us,” she said.

But Socarides scoffed at the notion that defending laws like DOMA would keep pro-gay laws safe under future administrations.

“I know that a lot of people make it in defense of the administration, but to me, it’s an entirely ludicrous argument,” Socarides said. “That argument turns all logic on its head. We’re not going to defend civil rights because some day the Republicans may choose not to defend civil rights.”

In another respect, appealing the lawsuits to the First Circuit could be beneficial to same-sex couples throughout New England because the higher court has jurisdiction over more states.

A favorable ruling at the First Circuit could invalidate part of DOMA for not just married same-sex couples in Massachusetts, but also couples living in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Swislow said an appeal of the DOMA cases is “really in our interest” because a victory only at the district court level would “only affect our particular plaintiffs” and not anyone else.

“It’s much better, in fact, to have the case appealed so that the victory in the appellate court … affects the First Circuit [and] a victory in the Supreme Court affects the whole country,” she said.

Doug NeJaime, a gay law professor at Loyola Law School, also said an appeal in the GLAD case could be beneficial to married same-sex couples across the nation because of the strong case made by plaintiffs.

“This is a very carefully and limited challenge seeking some federal recognition of married same-sex couples, but only affecting states where couples are allowed to actually enter into marriages that are recognized,” NeJaime said. “So, I think this would actually be a good issue to have work its way up the appellate chain.”

Still, Socarides said the Obama administration shouldn’t be considered a friend to the LGBT community for appealing the lawsuits because the president hasn’t said he’s appealing them for the purpose of having a stronger ruling.

“If the United States came back and said we believe this is unconstitutional, but we’re going to appeal it because we want a ruling from a court of appeals declaring it unconstitutional, that would be terrific, but they don’t say that, do they?” he said.

(Obama photo is a Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Kansas

Kansas governor vetoes ban on health care for transgender youth

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override veto

Published

on

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed two abortion bills and a measure criminalizing transgender health care for minors. House and Senate Republican leaders responded with promises to seek veto overrides when the full Legislature returned to Topeka on April 26. (Photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

BY TIM CARPENTER | Gov. Laura Kelly flexed a veto pen to reject bills Friday prohibiting gender identity health care for transgender youth, introducing a vague crime of coercing someone to have an abortion and implementing a broader survey of women seeking abortion that was certain to trigger veto override attempts in the Republican-led House and Senate.

The decisions by the Democratic governor to use her authority to reject these health and abortion rights bills didn’t come as a surprise given her previous opposition to lawmakers intervening in personal decisions that she believed ought to remain the domain of families and physicians.

Kelly said Senate Bill 233, which would ban gender-affirming care for trans minors in Kansas, was an unwarranted attack on a small number of Kansans under 18. She said the bill was based on a politically distorted belief the Legislature knew better than parents how to raise their children.

She said it was neither a conservative nor Kansas value to block medical professionals from performing surgery or prescribing puberty blockers for their patients. She said stripping doctors of their licenses for serving health interests of patients was wrong. Under the bill, offending physicians could be face lawsuits and their professional liability insurance couldn’t be relied on to defend themselves in court.

“To be clear, this legislation tramples parental rights,” Kelly said. “The last place that I would want to be as a politician is between a parent and a child who needed medical care of any kind. And, yet, that is exactly what this legislation does.”

Senate President Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and House Speaker Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) responded to the governor by denouncing the vetoes and pledging to seek overrides when legislators returned to the Capitol on April 26. The trans bill was passed 27-13 in the Senate and 82-39 in the House, suggesting both chambers were in striking distance of a two-thirds majority necessary to thwart the governor.

“The governor has made it clear yet again that the radical left controls her veto pen,” Masterson said. “This devotion to extremism will not stand, and we look forward to overriding her vetoes when we return in two weeks.”

Cathryn Oakley, senior director of the Human Rights Campaign, said the ban on crucial, medically necessary health care for trans youth was discriminatory, designed to spread dangerous misinformation and timed to rile up anti-LGBTQ activists.

“Every credible medical organization — representing over 1.3 million doctors in the United States — calls for age-appropriate, gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary people,” Oakley said. “This is why majorities of Americans oppose criminalizing or banning gender-affirming care.”

Abortion coercion

Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2436 that would create the felony crime of engaging in physical, financial or documentary coercion to compel a girl or woman to end a pregnancy despite an expressed desire to carry the fetus to term. It was approved 27-11 in the Senate and 82-37 in the House, again potentially on the cusp of achieving a veto override.

The legislation would establish sentences of one year in jail and $5,000 fine for those guilty of abortion coercion. The fine could be elevated to $10,000 if the adult applying the pressure was the fetuses’ father and the pregnant female was under 18. If the coercion was accompanied by crimes of stalking, domestic battery, kidnapping or about 20 other offenses the prison sentence could be elevated to 25 years behind bars.

Kelly said no one should be forced to undergo a medical procedure against their will. She said threatening violence against another individual was already a crime in Kansas.

“Additionally, I am concerned with the vague language in this bill and its potential to intrude upon private, often difficult, conversations between a person and their family, friends and health care providers,” the governor said. “This overly broad language risks criminalizing Kansans who are being confided in by their loved ones or simply sharing their expertise as a health care provider.”

Hawkins, the House Republican leader, said coercion was wrong regardless of the circumstances and Kelly’s veto of the bill was a step too far to the left.

“It’s a sad day for Kansas when the governor’s uncompromising support for abortion won’t even allow her to advocate for trafficking and abuse victims who are coerced into the procedure,” Hawkins said.

Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said HB 2436 sought to equate abortion with crime, perpetuate false narratives and erode a fundamental constitutional right to bodily autonomy. The bill did nothing to protect Kansas from reproductive coercion, including forced pregnancy or tampering with birth control.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes trusts patients and stands firmly against any legislation that seeks to undermine reproductive rights or limit access to essential health care services,” Wales said.

Danielle Underwood, spokeswoman for Kansas for Life, said “Coercion Kelly” demonstrated with this veto a lack of compassion for women pushed into an abortion.

The abortion survey

The House and Senate approved a bill requiring more than a dozen questions be added to surveys of women attempting to terminate a pregnancy in Kansas. Colorful debate in the House included consideration of public health benefits of requiring interviews of men about reasons they sought a vasectomy birth control procedure or why individuals turned to health professionals for treatment of erectile dysfunction.

House Bill 2749 adopted 81-39 in the House and 27-13 in the Senate would require the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to produce twice-a-year reports on responses to the expanded abortion survey. The state of Kansas cannot require women to answer questions on the survey.

Kelly said in her veto message the bill was “invasive and unnecessary” and legislators should have taken into account rejection in August 2022 of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have set the stage for legislation further limiting or ending access to abortion.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape or incest prior to obtaining an abortion,” Kelly said. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion. I refuse to sign legislation that goes against the will of the majority of Kansans who spoke loudly on Aug. 2, 2022. Kansans don’t want politicians involved in their private medical decisions.”

Wales, of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said the bill would have compelled health care providers to “interrogate patients seeking abortion care” and to engage in violations of patient privacy while inflicting undue emotional distress.

Hawkins, the Republican House speaker, said the record numbers of Kansas abortions — the increase has been driven by bans or restrictions imposed in other states — was sufficient to warrant scrutiny of KDHE reporting on abortion. He also said the governor had no business suppressing reporting on abortion and criticized her for tapping into “irrational fears of offending the for-profit pro-abortion lobby.”

******************************************************************************************

Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.

The preceding story was previously published by the Kansas Reflector and is republished with permission.

******************************************************************************************

The Kansas Reflector is a nonprofit news operation providing in-depth reporting, diverse opinions and daily coverage of state government and politics. This public service is free to readers and other news outlets. We are part of States Newsroom: the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization, with reporting from every capital.

Continue Reading

Colorado

Five transgender, nonbinary ICE detainees allege mistreatment at Colo. detention center

Advocacy groups filed complaint with federal officials on April 9

Published

on

(Photo courtesy of GEO Group)

Five transgender and nonbinary people who are in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a privately-run detention center in Colorado say they continue to suffer mistreatment.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, the National Immigration Project and the American Immigration Council on April 9 filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security’s Offices for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Immigration Detention Ombudsman and Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on behalf of the detainees at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver.

Charlotte, one of the five complainants, says she spends up to 23 hours a day in her room. 

She says in the complaint that a psychiatrist has prescribed her medications for anxiety and depression, but “is in the dark about her actual diagnoses because they were not explained to her.” Myriah and Elsa allege they do not have regular access to hormones and other related health care.

Omar, who identifies as trans and nonbinary, in the complaint alleges they would “start hormone replacement therapy if they could be assured that they would not be placed in solitary confinement.” Other detainees in the complaint allege staff have also threatened to place them in isolation.

“They have been told repeatedly that, if they started therapy, they would be placed in ‘protective custody’ (solitary confinement) because the Aurora facility has no nonbinary or men’s transgender housing unit,” reads the complaint. “This is so, despite other trans men having been detained in Aurora in the past, so Omar is very likely receiving misinformation that is preventing them from accessing the treatment they require.”

Omar further alleges staffers told them upon their arrival that “they had to have a ‘boy part’ (meaning a penis) to be assigned to” the housing unit in which other trans people live. Other complainants say staff have also subjected them to degrading comments and other mistreatment because of their gender identity. 

“Victoria, Charlotte and Myriah are all apprehensive about a specific female guard who is assigned to the housing unit for transgender women at Aurora,” reads the complaint. “Victoria has experienced this guard peering at her through the glass on the door of her form. Charlotte, Myriah and the other women in her dorm experienced the same guard making fun of them after they complained that she had confiscated all of their personal hygiene products, like their toothbrushes and toothpaste, and replaced them with menstrual pads and tampons, which she knows they do not need.”

“She said something to them like, ‘If you were real women, you would need these things,'” reads the complaint. “The same guard told them that they had to ask her for their personal hygiene products when they wanted to use them, stripping them of their most basic agency.”

Victoria, who has been in ICE custody for more than two years, also says she does not have regular access to hormones. Victoria further claims poor food, lack of access to exercise and stress and anxiety because of her prolonged detention has caused has made her health deteriorate.

The GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates the Aurora Contract Detention Facility.

Advocates for years have complained about the conditions for trans and nonbinary people in ICE custody and have demanded the agency release all of them.

Roxsana Hernández, a trans Honduran woman with HIV, on May 25, 2018, died in ICE custody in New Mexico. Her family in 2020 sued the federal government and the five private companies who were responsible for her care.

Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans Salvadoran woman, on June 1, 2019, passed away at a Texas hospital four days after her release from ICE custody. Kelly González Aguilar, a trans Honduran woman, had been in ICE custody for more than two years until her release from the Aurora Contract Detention Center on July 14, 2020.

ICE spokesperson Steve Kotecki on Friday told the Blade there were 10 “self-identified transgender detainees” at the Aurora Contract Detention Center on April 11. The facility’s “transgendered units” can accommodate up to 87 trans detainees. 

A 2015 memorandum then-ICE Executive Associate Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations Thomas Homan signed requires personnel to allow trans detainees to identify themselves based on their gender identity on data forms. The directive, among other things, also contains guidelines for a “respectful, safe and secure environment” for trans detainees and requires detention facilities to provide them with access to hormone therapy and other trans-specific health care.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” said Kotecki. “ICE regularly reviews each case involving self-identified transgender noncitizens and determines on a case-by-case basis whether detention is warranted.”

The complaint, however, states this memo does not go far enough to protect trans and nonbinary detainees.

“ICE’s 2015 guidance has some significant flaws,” it reads. “It fails to provide meaningful remedies for policy violations. It does not acknowledge the challenges that nonbinary people face when imprisoned by ICE and the lack of such guidance explains why the needs of nonbinary people are largely misunderstood and unmet.”

“Further, the language used to describe people who are TNB is not inclusive and does not reflect terminology adopted by the community it is meant to describe,” adds the complaint. “Although this list is not exhaustive, it addresses some of the primary concerns voiced by the complaints.”

Continue Reading

The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

Published

on

Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular