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Pelosi, Hoyer rebuke Boehner for defending DOMA in veteran case

BLAG set to intervene on behalf of anti-gay portions of Title 38 for first time

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

House Democratic leaders are continuing to criticize Speaker John Boehner for defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court and accuse him of going beyond his existing authority ahead of his planned intervention in a lesbian veteran’s litigation against the statute.

In a letter dated March 30, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) write to the speaker to express concern about Boehner intervening on behalf of DOMA in the case of Cooper-Harris v. United States.

“This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans,” Pelosi and Hoyer write. “The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.”

On Feb. 1, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the lawsuit against DOMA in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, who’s seeking benefits as a disabled Army veteran her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. The two were married in California in 2008 before Proposition 8 took effect.

Boehner’s attorney’s has yet to file the intervention, but the Washington Blade has obtained documents revealing their intent to intervene in the lawsuit. Informed sources are expecting a formal filing of the intervention next week.

Boehner will be defending not just DOMA in court, but Title 38, a law governing veteran benefits that as written precludes same-sex married couples from obtaining benefits. It’s the first time the speaker has elected to defend this statute in addition to DOMA.

In a letter last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder notified Congress that the Obama administration would no longer defend portions of Title 38 related to same-sex couples as it has with DOMA.

It’s taking on defense of Title 38 that Pelosi and Hoyer belief are beyond Boehner’s authority. In the letter, the lawmakers request a formal Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group vote on defending Title 38 and ask that any extension of the existing legal contract receive prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.

Brendan Buck, a Boehner spokesperson, issued a statement saying the speaker’s intervention in the case against Title 38 is aligned with House rules.

“It was determined through consultations with each office — the process used to make such decisions regularly under then-Speaker Pelosi — that a majority of the BLAG believes the constitutionality of this statute, which the Attorney General described as ‘identical in material respect to the language of Section 3 of DOMA,’ should be determined by the judicial branch, not through a unilateral decree of the President,” Buck said.

Tracey (left) & Maggie Cooper-Harris (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Tracey Cooper-Harris was diagnosed in 2010 with multiple sclerosis, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has determined is connected to her military service in Iraq and Afghanistan, She’s been receiving disability benefits as a veteran, but is unable to receive spousal benefits that she would otherwise be entitled to if she were in an opposite-sex marriage. Among them are disability benefits meant to ensure the financial stability of spouses.

Christine Sun, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said her organization is pleased House Democratic leaders are taking interest in its lawsuit.

“We are pleased that Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer are getting involved in the Cooper-Harris case and standing with veterans,” Sun said. “It is astonishing that Rep. John Boehner and his colleagues are continuing this shameful crusade against our brave men and women in uniform and is nothing short of disgusting.”

After the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court last year, Boehner directed House General Counsel Kerry Kircher to defend the statute after BLAG voted 3-2 on a party-line basis to take up defense of the law.

According to Leader Pelosi’s office, the Cooper-Harris case marks the 12th time Boehner has intervened to defend. Earlier this week, officials testified this week that House defense of DOMA thus far has cost $742,000, although Boehner has raised the cost cap to $1.5 million.

The full text of Pelosi and Hoyer’s letter to Boehner follows:

March 30, 2012

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representatives
United States Capitol
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Mr. Speaker:

Today, we were notified that the House, through outside counsel acting at your direction, has decided to intervene in a case challenging the constitutionality of laws denying federal benefits to military spouses on the basis of their sexual orientation.  As members of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), who were not consulted prior to this unwise decision, we strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris.  This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed.

This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future – supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans.  We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination.  This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans.   The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security.  They risk their lives for the country they love – and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love.  These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.

The plaintiffs in Cooper-Harris v. U.S. argue that federal law, including Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. § 7, and portions of the Veteran’s Benefits title of the United States Code, 38 U.S.C. § 101(3) and (31), denies them equal protection under the law by failing to uphold our promises to our servicemembers to care for them and their families.  We agree, and note that the U.S. Department of Justice has notified Congress that Section 3 of DOMA – as well as the definitional portions in Title 38 dealing with military and veterans’ benefits – “cannot be constitutionally applied to same-sex couples who are legally married under state law.”  We applaud the decision of the Attorney General against defending indefensible discrimination.

Federal district courts have already deemed DOMA unconstitutional, and the Justice Department will not defend the law.  We call upon the Republican members of the BLAG to rescind your unilateral decision to expand your defense of DOMA to cases involving veterans.  If you insist upon continuing this costly and wasteful use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds, we request: (a) a formal vote of the BLAG on extending your defense of discrimination to veterans and their families, and (b) any extension of the existing legal contract, any new contract, and any additional expenditure of public funds on behalf of outside counsel receive full prior examination by the Committee on House Administration and the House Ethics Committee.

We look forward to receiving your response to this and the several previous letters from House Democrats on this subject.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Best regards,

NANCY PELOSI               STENY H. HOYER

Democratic Leader          Democratic Whip

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U.S. Supreme Court

LGBTQ activists alarmed over concurring opinion in abortion ruling

Justice Thomas calls for ‘reconsideration’ of marriage, sodomy rulings

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (Photo public domain)

LGBTQ activists have expressed alarm over a concurring opinion issued on Friday by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling for the high court to “reconsider” previous decisions overturning state sodomy laws and legalizing same-sex marriage as a follow-up to the court’s controversial ruling on Friday to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.

In an action that drew expressions of outrage from abortion rights advocates and strong support by right-to-life advocates, the Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 ruling on Friday overturning the fundamental right to an abortion that the court established nearly 50 years ago in its landmark decision known as Roe v. Wade.

In his concurring opinion, Thomas said he supports the high court’s majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. He states that he agrees with the ruling that nothing in the majority opinion “should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”

But he also states that in potential future cases, “we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.”

He was referring to the past Supreme Court Griswold ruling that overturned state laws banning or restricting birth control such as contraceptives; the high court’s 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that overturned state laws banning sodomy between consenting adults; and the 2015 Obergefell ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

“Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion is obviously concerning, but it is important to note that not one other justice agreed with him,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ rights advocacy group. “In fact, the majority took pains to disagree with him and clarify that this opinion relates only to abortion. Justice Thomas stands alone,” Warbelow told the Washington Blade in a statement.

“With that said, we know that if the court was willing to overturn 50 years of precedent with this case, that all of our constitutional rights are on the line,” Warbelow said. “Lawmakers will be further emboldened to come after our progress. So, we must be vigilant in protecting our hard-won rights — we’re ready.”

Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), said the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade would have a “disastrous effect” on healthcare for women, especially women of color. He said the ruling could also lead to future rulings that adversely impact LGBTQ people and other minorities.

“We have no doubt that the conservative supermajority on the court will not stop with Roe,” Kawata said in a statement. “Justice Thomas’s chilling concurring opinion makes it very clear that the court could target other rights provided by the court — marriage equality, contraception access, and LGBTQ+ intimacy in private to name a few,” he said.

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The White House

Biden labels Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade ‘a sad day for court’

“Imagine, woman having to carry a child that’s a consequence of incest, with no option” to terminate the pregnancy, Biden said

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President Biden speaks to Americans after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade (Screenshot/YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Just after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority moved to overturn the constitutional right to abortion on Friday in a 6-3 ruling, President Joe Biden vowed to protect American women from prosecution for traveling to other states to terminate their pregnancies. 

Thirteen states have made or will soon make abortion illegal, some without exceptions for rape and incest, following today’s ruling. After a draft of that ruling was leaked in May, some state legislatures considered bills to prevent women from circumventing their restrictions on abortion. 

“If any state or local official high or low tries to interfere with a woman exercising her basic right to travel, I will do everything in my power to fight that unamerican attack,” Biden said. 

Delivering his remarks from the Great Cross Hall of the White House, the President looked visibly upset, particularly when discussing the extreme abortion bans in some states that will now be allowed to go into effect. 

“They are so extreme that women can be punished for protecting their health; that some women and girls will be forced to bear their rapists’ child,” Biden said. It was at this point that he appeared to go off-script to share his personal feelings on the ruling and its implications. “It just stuns me,” he said. “Imagine, woman having to carry a child that’s a consequence of incest, with no option” to terminate the pregnancy.

Biden called for those who share his anger and outrage – many who gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court in protest – to remain peaceful. He urged Americans to vote to give Democrats in Congress the majority that will be necessary for them to codify the constitutional right to abortion first established by the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade and overturned today with the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

Biden warned of the “dangerous path the court is taking us on,” pointing to Justice Thomas’s comments in the decision that “In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” 

Should the court revisit the precedents established by those cases, it could mean constitutional protections for the return of laws banning birth control, sodomy and same-sex marriage. 

Biden noted Americans’ constitutional right to abortion was affirmed in multiple decisions by the Supreme Court, endorsed by justices who were appointed by presidents from both parties. 

“It was three justices named by one president, Donald Trump, who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country,” Biden said.

President Biden speaks on Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade:

Full transcript:

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN
ON THE SUPREME COURT DECISION
TO OVERTURN ROE V. WADE

Today is a — it’s not hyperbole to suggest a very solemn moment.  Today, the Supreme Court of the United States expressly took away a constitutional right from the American people that it had already recognized.

They didn’t limit it.  They simply took it away.  That’s never been done to a right so important to so many Americans.

But they did it.  And it’s a sad day for the Court and for the country.

Fifty years ago, Roe v. Wade was decided and has been the law of the land since then.

This landmark case protected a woman’s right to choose, her right to make intensely personal decisions with her doctor, free from the inter- — from interference of politics.

It reaffirmed basic principles of equality — that women have the power to control their own destiny.  And it reinforced the fundamental right of privacy — the right of each of us to choose how to live our lives.

Now, with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.

As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Vice President and now as President of the United States, I’ve studied this case carefully.  I’ve overseen more Supreme Court confirmations than anyone today, where this case was always discussed.

I believe Roe v. Wade was the correct decision as a matter of constitutional law, an application of the fundamental right to privacy and liberty in matters of family and personal autonomy.

It was a decision on a complex matter that drew a careful balance between a woman’s right to choose earlier in her pregnancy and the state’s ability to regulate later in her pregnancy.  A decision with broad national consensus that most Americans of faiths and backgrounds found acceptable and that had been the law of the land for most of the lifetime of Americans today.

And it was a constitutional principle upheld by justices appointed by Democrat and Republican Presidents alike. 

Roe v. Wade was a 7 to 2 decision written by a justice appointed by a Republican President, Richard Nixon.  In the five decades that followed Roe v. Wade, justices appointed by Republican Presidents — from Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, George W. [H.W.] Bush — were among the justices who voted to uphold the principles set forth in Roe v. Wade.

It was three justices named by one President — Donald Trump — who were the core of today’s decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country.

Make no mistake: This decision is the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law.  It’s a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court, in my view.

The Court has done what it has never done before: expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans that had already been recognized.

The Court’s decision to do so will have real and immediate consequences.  State laws banning abortion are automatically taking effect today, jeopardizing the health of millions of women, some without exceptions. 

So extreme that women could be punished for protecting their health.

So extreme that women and girls who are forced to bear their rapist’s child — of the child of consequence. 

It’s a — it just — it just stuns me. 

So extreme that doctors will be criminalized for fulfilling their duty to care.

Imagine having — a young woman having to ch- — carry the child of incest — as a consequence of incest.  No option. 

Too often the case that poor women are going to be hit the hardest.  It’s cruel.

In fact, the Court laid out state laws criminalizing abortion that go back to the 1800s as rationale — the Court literally taking America back 150 years. 

This a sad day for the country, in my view, but it doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Let me be very clear and unambiguous: The only way we can secure a woman’s right to choose and the balance that existed is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law.

No executive action from the President can do that.  And if Congress, as it appears, lacks the vote — votes to do that now, voters need to make their voices heard.

This fall, we must elect more senators and representatives who will codify a woman’s right to choose into federal law once again, elect more state leaders to protect this right at the local level.

We need to restore the protections of Roe as law of the land.  We need to elect officials who will do that.

This fall, Roe is on the ballot.  Personal freedoms are on the ballot.  The right to privacy, liberty, equality, they’re all on the ballot. 

Until then, I will do all in my power to protect a woman’s right in states where they will face the consequences of today’s decision.

While the Court’s decision casts a dark shadow over a large swath of the land, many states in this country still recognize a woman’s right to choose.

So if a woman lives in a state that restricts abortion, the Supreme Court’s decision does not prevent her from traveling from her home state to the state that allows it.  It does not prevent a doctor in that state — in that state from treating her.

As the Attorney General has made clear, women must remain free to travel safely to another state to seek the care they need.  And my administration will defend that bedrock right. 

If any state or local official, high or low, tries to interfere with a woman’s ex- — exercising her basic right to travel, I will do everything in my power to fight that deeply un-American attack.

My administration will also protect a woman’s access to medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration — the FDA — like contraception, which is essential for preventative healthcare; mifepristone, which the FDA approved 20 years ago to safely end early pregnancies and is commonly used to treat miscarriages.

Some states are saying that they’ll try to ban or severely restrict access to these medications. 

But extremist governors and state legislators who are looking to block the mail or search a person’s medicine cabinet or control a woman’s actions by tracking data on her apps she uses are wrong and extreme and out of touch with the majority of Americans.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote to me and Vice President Harris stressing that these laws are not based on — are not based on evidence and asking us to act to protect access to care.  They say by limiting access to these medicines, maternal mortality will climb in America.  That’s what they say.

Today, I’m directing the Department of Health and Human Services to take steps to ensure that these critical medications are available to the fullest extent possible and that politicians cannot interfere in the decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor.  And my administration will remain vigilant as the implications of this decision play out.

I’ve warned about how this decision risks the broader right to privacy for everyone.  That’s because Roe recognized the fundamental right to privacy that has served as the basis for so many more rights that we have come to take — we’ve come to take for granted that are ingrained in the fabric of this country: the right to make the best decisions for your health; the right to use birth control — a married couple — in the privacy of their bedroom, for God’s sake; the right to marry the person you love. 

Now, Justice Thomas said as much today.  He explicitly called to reconsider the right of marriage equality, the right of couples to make their choices on contraception.  This is an extreme and dangerous path the Court is now taking us on. 

Let me close with two points. 

First, I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful.  Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.  No intimidation.  Violence is never acceptable.  Threats and intimidation are not speech.  We must stand against violence in any form regardless of your rationale.

Second, I know so many of us are frustrated and disillusioned that the Court has taken something away that’s so fundamental.  I know so many women are now going to face incredibly difficult situations.  I hear you.  I support you.  I stand with you. 

The consequences and the consensus of the American people — core principles of equality, liberty, dignity, and the stability of the rule of law — demand that Roe should not have been overturned.

With this decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court shows how extreme it is, how far removed they are from the majority of this country.  They have made the United States an outlier among developed nations in the world.  But this decision must not be the final word.

My administration will use all of its appropriate lawful powers.  But Congress must act.  And with your vote, you can act.  You can have the final word.  This is not over.

Thank you very much.  I’ll have more to say on this in weeks to come.  Thank you.

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U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Justices issued 6-3 ruling

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U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022.. (Washington Blade photo by Josh Alburtus)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday in a 6-3 ruling overturned Roe v. Wade.

Justice Clarence Thomas in the decision said the Supreme Court should also reconsider the decisions in the Obergefell and Lawrence cases that extended marriage equality to same-sex couples and the right to private, consensual sex.

LGBTQ rights groups were quick to condemn the ruling.

“Today the Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling in Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs — a huge setback to our long-standing fundamental right to bodily autonomy,” said National LGBTQ Task Force Executive Director Kierra Johnson. “This decision by the conservative majority on the bench also marks the beginning of the vital work to re-establish our constitutional foundation for reproductive justice and freedom. We must redouble our work to protect access to abortion and reproductive justice at the state and national levels. We will never give up.”

“When the Supreme Court is willing to throw 50 years of precedent out the window, it proves that we are at an exceedingly dangerous, unprecedented moment. The court’s majority opinion does not reflect the will of our nation — two thirds of whom support Roe v. Wade but instead fulfills an extreme, out of step, ideological agenda. And it shows that all of our rights are on the line right now, as state lawmakers will be further emboldened to test the limits of our hard-won civil rights,” added interim Human Rights Campaign President Joni Madison. “Women are under attack, LGBTQ+ people are under attack, BIPOC people are under attack, and we are justifiably outraged. We cannot relent — we must fight back.”

Jim Obergefell, a candidate for the Ohio House and the lead plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that affirmed marriage equality as the law of the land, issued the following statement today following news that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“It’s a sad day for womens’ rights. This U.S. Supreme Court continues to erode the rights of citizens at an alarming rate. We are facing a health and human rights crisis in this country and as a result countless lives will be at risk. Women deserve responsive leaders who support reproductive justice. Leaders who respect their basic right to have control over their own body. The reality is that women today will have less rights than their own mothers. We are going backwards and it’s both enraging and terrifying to see the excessive government overreach that this court is imposing on our country.”

In his remarks on the Supreme Court ruling, President Joe Biden speaking live from the Great Cross Hall in the White House said at one point, “It just stuns me,” adding that poor women would be hit the hardest by the decision. “This is a sad day for the country in my view but it does not mean the fight is over.”

He called on Congress to restore abortion protections into law and pointed to the November midterm elections, saying, “this fall, Roe is on the ballot.”

He urged protests to be conducted peacefully and said violence is never acceptable.

“This decision must not be the final word,” Biden said.

Biden’s remarks ended at 12:49 p.m. EST after speaking for nearly 12 minutes. He did not respond to shouted questions from reporters about the ruling and the future of the Supreme Court. 

Screenshot/YouTube NBC News

U. S. Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement condemning the high court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has eliminated an established right that has been an essential component of women’s liberty for half a century — a right that has safeguarded women’s ability to participate fully and equally in society. And in renouncing this fundamental right, which it had repeatedly recognized and reaffirmed, the court has upended the doctrine of stare decisis, a key pillar of the rule of law.

“The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the court’s decision. This decision deals a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States. It will have an immediate and irreversible impact on the lives of people across the country. And it will be greatly disproportionate in its effect — with the greatest burdens felt by people of color and those of limited financial means. “

The attorney general went on to warn that acts of violence in the wake of today’s ruling will not be tolerated.

“Advocates with different views on this issue have the right to, and will, voice their opinions. Peacefully expressing a view is protected by the First Amendment. But we must be clear that violence and threats of violence are not. The Justice Department will not tolerate such acts.”

Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Washington Blade in an email that “Justice Thomas’s concurrence is an open assault on the landmark precedents that have transformed the place of LGBTQ people in our society. Historically, the Supreme Court has relied on substantive due process to protect essential liberties such as the freedom to decide whether to conceive a child, to marry or be in an intimate relationship with the person of one’s choice, to raise children as one sees fit, and to travel or move anywhere in the country.”

“These are among our most basic and cherished freedoms, and Justice Thomas is urging the court to scrap them all. While the majority opinion does not go that far, it is full of landmines that appear to lay a foundation for future decisions that may cast these fundamental rights into question or eliminate them altogether. Today’s decision is even more alarming than the leaked opinion and strongly suggests that this is only the beginning of a radical campaign to undo decades of precedent.  The question is no longer if this court is willing to jettison other fundamental freedoms, but how quickly they are likely to do so, and which ones are likely to be on the chopping block first,” Minter added.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Read the Supreme Court’s opinion:

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