Attorneys for Bishop Harry Jackson, the minister who has led efforts to kill D.C.’s same-sex marriage law, filed a petition last week asking the U.S. Supreme to weigh in on whether the city should allow voters to decide whether to overturn the law.
In a filing known as a petition for a Writ of Certiorari, Jackson’s attorneys asked the high court to allow Jackson and six others to appeal a decision earlier this year by the D.C. Court of Appeals rejecting their lawsuit seeking to force the city to hold a ballot measure on the marriage law.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who has been praised for his strongly worded briefs defending the same-sex marriage law in court, has yet to say whether the city will file a brief opposing Jackson’s Supreme Court petition.
City officials, including presumptive Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, have said they remain strongly supportive of the same-sex marriage law and would martial all the needed resources to defend it if the Supreme Court agrees to take Jackson’s case.
Supreme Court rules say briefs opposing a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari are not mandatory. One gay rights attorney said opposing parties often don’t file opposition briefs if they believe the high court is unlikely to approve a certiorari petition.
“I would think Peter Nickles might still write something,” said gay rights attorney Mark Levine. “But he may choose not to.”
Spokespersons for Nickles and the mayor’s office did immediately respond to calls asking if the city plans to file an opposition brief on the case.
The city has 30 days to file an opposing brief.
Four of the nine Supreme Court justices are needed to approve a petition for certiorari, which allows a case to come before the court for consideration on its merits. The court turns down the overwhelming majority of cases that come before it through petitions of certiorari, according to information posted on the court’s website.
Should the court agree to take the case, five of the nine justices are needed to issue a ruling in Jackson’s favor by overturning the appeals court decision.
Levine said it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court would agree to take the case, although he said its past rulings on some controversial cases have surprised legal observers.
The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics was correct in disqualifying Jackson’s proposed ballot measure seeking to overturn the same-sex marriage law. The election board cited a city law governing voter initiatives and referenda that it said prohibits the city from holding such a ballot measure because, if approved, it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Jackson and his attorneys argue that the law restricting ballot measures that go against provisions in the D.C. Human Rights Act is invalid because it violates the city’s Home Rule Charter, which Congress passed in the early 1970s.
The election board and a D.C. Superior Court judge rejected that claim as did the Court of Appeals. Each said the ballot measure restriction doesn’t violate the Home Rule Charter.
In March, before the appeals court issued its decision on the case, Jackson’s lawyers filed an emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to issue a stay preventing the same-sex marriage law from taking effect until the appeals court ruled on the matter.
Chief Justice John Roberts denied the request for a stay, saying Jackson and others opposed to the marriage law could not show that they could win the case on its merits, or that allowing the law to take effect would cause them irreparable harm at that time.
However, Roberts said in his three-page ruling that Jackson’s argument that the city acted improperly by denying a request for a ballot measure on grounds that it would violate the Human Rights Act “has some force.”
That comment by Roberts has led to speculation by legal experts that the Chief Justice might give at least some consideration to supporting a petition that the Supreme Court take the case, even though the court has a longstanding history of deferring to lower courts on matters that don’t relate to the U.S. constitution or to federal law.
In a comment that same-sex marriage supporters viewed as a hopeful sign, Roberts also stated in his ruling in March that Congress had full authority to prevent the city from adopting its law prohibiting ballot measures that violate the Human Rights Act, but Congress chose not to do so.
Nickles, who wrote the city’s briefs defending the same-sex marriage law against Jackson’s lawsuit, has argued that the law barring ballot measure that violate the Human Rights Act was adopted in full compliance with the Home Rule Charter. He noted that Congress’s decision not to overturn either the ballot measure law or the same-sex marriage law shows there is no federal or constitutional interest in either law and Jackson has no grounds for asking the courts to overturn it.
The Supreme Court is not expected to announce its decision on whether or not to take Jackson’s case until sometime next year.
In addition to Jackson, the individuals that signed on to the petition seeking Supreme Court intervention in the case include Ward 5 ANC Commissioner Robert King, local minister Anthony Evans, former D.C. congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, Dale Wafer, Melvin Dupree, and Howard Butler.
The group is being represented by attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative religious-oriented litigation group that has challenged same-sex marriages laws in other states.
“Today’s petition by Bishop Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court is nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by outside interests to try to eliminate marriage equality in the District,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement last week. “Every court that has reviewed this case, including two D.C. Superior Court judges and the full Court of Appeals, has found Jackson’s arguments to be without merit,” he said. “The Council and mayor, representing District residents, overwhelmingly approved legislation providing for marriage equality. And we will remain vigilant against any efforts to take it away.”
(Jackson photo is a Blade file photo by Michael Key)
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Two in 2016 killing of Dee Dee Dodds guilty of voluntary manslaughter
A D.C. LGBTQ anti-violence group will be submitting a community impact statement for a D.C. Superior Court judge scheduled to sentence two men on Dec. 10 for the July 4, 2016, shooting death of transgender woman Deeniquia “Dee Dee” Dodds in a case D.C. police listed as a hate crime.
Stephania Mahdi, chair of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community’s Anti-Violence Project, told the Washington Blade the project has been in contact with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C., which is prosecuting the case against the two defendants set to be sentenced this week, to arrange for the submission of a statement on the impact the murder of Dodds has had on the community.
The impact statement would also apply to the sentencing of two other men charged in the Dodds murder case who are scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20.
The Dec. 10 sentencing for Jolonta Little, 30, and Monte T. Johnson, 25, was set to take place a little over two months after Little and Johnson pleaded guilty on Sept. 30 to a single count of voluntary manslaughter as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors.
In exchange for the guilty plea for voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to drop the charge of first-degree murder while armed originally brought against the two men. The plea agreement also called for dropping additional charges against them in connection with the Dodds murder, including robbery while armed, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
In addition, the plea agreement includes a promise by prosecutors to ask D.C. Superior Court Judge Milton C. Lee, who is presiding over the case, to issue a sentence of eight years in prison for both men. Under the D.C. criminal code, a conviction on a voluntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Johnson has been held without bond for five years and three months since his arrest in the Dodds case in September 2016. Little has been held without bond since his arrest for the Dodds murder in February 2017. Courthouse observers say that judges almost always give defendants credit for time served prior to their sentencing, a development that would likely result in the two men being released in about three years.
The plea deal for the two men came two and a half years after a D.C. Superior Court jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charges against Johnson and Little following a month-long trial, prompting Judge Lee to declare a mistrial on March 6, 2019.
The two other men charged in Dodds’ murder, Shareem Hall, 27, and his brother, Cyheme Hall, 25, accepted a separate plea bargain offer by prosecutors shortly before the start of the 2019 trial in which they pled guilty to second-degree murder. Both testified at Johnson and Little’s the trial as government witnesses.
In dramatic testimony, Cyheme Hall told the jury that it was Johnson who fatally shot Dodds in the neck at point blank range after he said she grabbed the barrel of Johnson’s handgun as Johnson and Hall attempted to rob her on Division Ave., N.E., near where she lived. Hall testified that the plan among the four men to rob Dodds did not include the intent to kill her.
In his testimony, Hall said that on the day of Dodd’s murder, he and the other three men made plans to commit armed robberies for cash in areas of D.C. where trans women, some of whom were sex workers, congregated. He testified that the four men got into a car driven by Little and searched the streets for victims they didn’t expect to offer resistance.
D.C. police and the U.S. Attorney’s office initially designated the murder charge against Little and Johnson as an anti-trans hate crime offense based on findings by homicide detectives that the men were targeting trans women for armed robberies. But during Johnson and Little’s trial, Judge Lee dismissed the hate crime designation at the request of defense attorneys on grounds that there was insufficient evidence to support a hate crime designation.
At the request of prosecutors, Judge Lee scheduled a second trial for Johnson and Little on the murder charge for Feb. 25, 2020. But court records show the trial date was postponed to June 22, 2020, and postponed several more times – to Jan 11, 2021, and later to Feb. 17, 2022, due to COVID-related restrictions before the plea bargain offer was agreed to in September of this year. The public court records do not show why the trial was postponed the first few times prior to the start of COVID restrictions on court proceedings.
Legal observers have said long delays in trials, especially murder trials, often make it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction because memories of key witnesses sometimes become faulty several years after a crime was committed.
“The D.C. Anti-Violence Project is disappointed to hear about the unfortunate proceedings in the case to bring justice for Dee Dee Dodds,” Mahdi, the Anti-Violence Project’s chair, told the Blade in a statement.
“A plea bargain from first-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter as well as a reduction of years in sentencing from 30 to 8 communicates not only a miscarriage of justice, but a message of penalization for victims who attempt to protect themselves during a violent assault,” Mahdi said. “The continual impact of reducing the culpability of perpetrators who target members of specifically identified communities sends a malicious message to criminals that certain groups of people are easier targets with lenient consequences,” she said.
“As a result of this pattern, the D.C. community has failed to defend the life and civil rights of Dee Dee Dodds and leaves criminally targeted LGBTQ+ community and other cultural identity communities critically undervalued by stewards of justice in the nation’s capital,” Mahdi concluded.
William Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, has declined to disclose the reason why prosecutors decided to offer Johnson and Little the plea bargain deal rather than petition the court for a second trial for the two men on the first-degree murder charge.
Attorneys familiar with cases like this, where a jury becomes deadlocked, have said prosecutors sometimes decide to offer a plea deal rather than go to trial again out of concern that another jury could find a defendant not guilty on all charges.
During the trial, defense attorneys told the jury that the Hall brothers were habitual liars and there were inconsistencies in their testimony. They argued that the Halls’ motives were aimed strictly at saying what prosecutors wanted them to say so they could get off with a lighter sentence.
The two prosecutors participating in the trial disputed those claims, arguing that government witnesses provided strong evidence that Johnson and Little should be found guilty of first-degree murder and other related charges.
Before the jury announced it was irreconcilably deadlocked on the murder charges, the jury announced it found Little not guilty of seven separate counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and found Johnson not guilty of five counts of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
Howard County activists and allies hit back at censorship, hate
More than 100 people attended ‘We ARE the People’ rally
A diverse crowd of 100 to 200 folks gathered at the Columbia Lakefront on Saturday to attend a rally to push back against censorship in the county’s public schools as well as homophobia and transphobia emanating from a group of conservative parents.
The rally called “We ARE the People” was organized in response to the comments and actions by members of a Maryland-based conservative group “We the People 2” that among other things are anti-masks, anti-vaccinations and are opposed to teaching racial history in the schools. They also oppose two books that are in Howard County Public Schools library shelves: “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy.”
Speakers at a We the People 2 rally last month at an Elkridge warehouse condemned the books, which contain LGBTQ characters, as sexually explicit. The group later filed police reports against the Board of Education alleging the books constitute pornography with “graphic sexual content and materials being used and disseminated in public schools,” according to the group’s press release. A flier announcing this action used the loaded terminology, “We must not allow our children to be abused and victimized.”
Among the speakers at the Elkridge rally was Republican Gordana Schifanelli who is running for lieutenant governor on the ticket with Daniel Cox. Another speaker, George Johnson, a teacher from Baltimore City, was heard on a video of the event saying, “We’re doing God’s work because Marxism, homosexuality and transgenderism is the devil.”
In response, the pro-LGBTQ rally in Columbia announced the following:
We are taking a stance against hate in the community as we raise our voices in support of equity in our schools. Attacks on teachers and school staff have prompted us to stand united and drown out the noise.
In addition, We ARE the People states:
We stand for LGBTQ+ students and educational professionals
Teaching accurate history to our students
Supporting equitable practices in our schools
Providing students with relevant LGBTQ+ media through their school libraries
The two-hour rally, which was attended by several county council members, featured speakers representing a wide swath of community, educational, religious and political organizations. They included: Community Allies of Rainbow Youth (CARY), Black Lives Activists of Columbia (BLAC), Absolutely Dragulous, Howard County Schools, PFLAG-Columbia/Howard County, IndivisibleHoCoMd, Columbia Democratic Club, Howard Progressive Project, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia (UUCC), HoCo Pride, Progressive Democrats of Howard County, and the Columbia United Christian Church.
Many of the speakers denounced the censorship of materials that are needed by many LGBTQ students. Genderqueer and non-binary students, they point out, are most vulnerable and need affirming literature to help with their development and self-acceptance. The speakers also decried hate speech, which has surfaced again, as well as the opposition to teaching history as it relates to race.
Others argued that the community must not sit back and take it from extremist groups.
“You are all defenders,” said Cynthia Fikes, president of the Columbia Democratic Club, in a fiery speech. “But to succeed a strong defense also needs a strong offense.”
The two books in question were recently the center of controversy in the Fairfax County (Va.) school system. The books were removed in September from the shelves of the high schools pending a comprehensive review following opposition from a parent at a school board meeting. It should be noted that both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.”
The board established two committees consisting of parents, staff and students to assess the content of the books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services who would make the final determination.
One committee found that “Lawn Boy” includes themes that “are affirming for students” with marginalized identities. “There is no pedophilia in the book,” the committee added. The other committee found that “Gender Queer” depicts “difficulties non-binary and asexual individuals may face.” The committee concluded that “the book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.” The books were restored to the shelves.
“As this backlash against LGTBQ+ literature demonstrates, we must be ready to stand up and defend the progress we have made,” said Jennifer Mallo, member of the Howard County Board of Education, expressing her own point of view. “We must ensure our elected officials understand and share our values and will fight for our marginalized students.”
The enthusiastic crowd was clearly pleased with the event.
“Today’s rally was meant to inspire our community to take action,” said Chris Hefty, who was the lead organizer of the rally and the emcee. “Action that protects our youth. Action that protects our educators and admins. This action comes in the form of advocacy, communication with elected officials so they know your voice, and through well informed voting to ensure those who represent us are those we know will support us. We shared a message of love, acceptance, and warmth.”
Hefty adds, “The unity we facilitated through this rally was a sight to behold. As the lead organizer I couldn’t have been more pleased! In the future we will be sure to better meet the needs of all our community members. We thank all those in our community for their support and feedback and look forward to accomplishing great things together moving forward.”
Comings & Goings
Nathanson takes role at Outright Action
The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected]
The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success.
Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.”
Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.
Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe.
Chile marriage equality bill receives final approval
Does a potential overturn of Roe imperil LGBTQ rights?
In plea deal, D.C. trans woman’s killers could be free in 3 years
Boris Johnson’s LGBTQ rights advisor visits D.C.
PHOTOS: GMCW Holiday Show
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Victory Fund honors gay Guatemalan congressman at D.C. conference
Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag
Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’
Sign Up for Blade eBlasts
World1 day ago
The gay man who shook Brazilian sports and society
National6 days ago
‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men
Local7 days ago
D.C. area LGBTQ bars, eateries receive $100K COVID-19 relief grant
Politics2 days ago
Bob Dole dies at 98; anti-LGBTQ record is part of his legacy
Politics7 days ago
Biden recognizes LGBTQ survivors in World AIDS Day statement
Opinions5 days ago
Should we be scared of Omicron?
a&e features5 days ago
The ultimate guide to queer gift giving 2021
National5 days ago
Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral