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U.S. Federal Courts

VP, Press Secretary condemn appeals court’s abortion pill ruling

Outcome of the case now pending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court

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Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, New Orleans, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade
The Fifth Circuit has ruled against marriage bans in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

Vice President Kamala Harris and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued separate statements on Wednesday objecting to a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which upheld a lower court’s restrictions on access to the abortion pill mifepristone.

Both, however, noted the U.S. Supreme Court’s issuance in April of a stay in the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA, which halted the enforcement of any changes to the drug’s availability pending the outcome of the appeals process.

The lawsuit aims to invalidate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, a medication that scientific and medical experts overwhelmingly agree has since been proven safe and effective.

Harris and Jean-Pierre stressed that the restrictions handed down by the appellate and district courts constitute medically unnecessary barriers to reproductive healthcare, while the litigation threatens to imperil the FDA’s statutorily ordained right to exercise its expert judgment over drug products in the U.S.

“The President and I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to make decisions about her own health care,” the vice president said.

The press secretary echoed those comments. “The Administration will continue to stand by FDA’s independent approval of mifepristone as safe and effective,” she said, adding, “The Department of Justice announced that it will be seeking Supreme Court review” of the Fifth Circuit’s decision.

At this juncture, the High Court could decline to review the case, which would effectively allow the appellate court’s ruling to stand, but many legal experts believe the justices are likely to weigh in considering the importance of the legal questions at issue.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge: drag is ‘vulgar and lewd,’ ‘sexualized conduct’

Ruling ‘bristles with hostility toward LGBTQ people’

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J. Marvin Jones Federal Building, U.S. Courthouse in Amarillo, Texas (Photo: Library of Congress)

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas issued a ruling Thursday denying relief to a group of university students who sought to host a drag show over the objections of their school’s president.

A Trump appointed jurist with deep ties to anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion conservative legal activists, Kacsmaryk argued that drag performances probably do not constitute speech protected by the First Amendment.

As Slate Senior Writer Mark Joseph Stern wrote on X, this conclusion “conflicts with decisions from Texas, Florida, Tennessee and Montana which held that drag is constitutionally protected expression.”

“It also bristles with undisguised hostility toward LGBTQ people,” he added.

Kacsmaryk’s 26-page decision describes drag performances as lewd and licentious, obscene and sexually prurient, despite arguments the plaintiffs had presented about the social, political, and artistic merit of this art form.

As the Human Rights Campaign recently wrote, “drag artists and the spaces that host their performances have long served as a communal environment for queer expression.”

The group added, “It is a form of art and entertainment, but, historically, the performances haven’t only served to entertain, but also to truly advance the empowerment and visibility of LGBTQ+ people.”

Nevertheless, anti-LGBTQ conservative activists and organizations have perpetuated conspiracy theories about members of the community targeting children for sexual abuse including by bringing them to drag performances.

Among these is a group with ties to the Proud Boys that was cited by Kacsmaryk in his ruling: Gays Against Groomers, an anti-LGBTQ and anti-transgender extremist group, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center.

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U.S. Federal Courts

LGBTQ veterans sue Pentagon for failing to correct discrimination after DADT repeal

Plaintiffs argue thousands still face consequences of discriminatory policy

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (Photo credit: U.S. Courts/GSA)

A lawsuit filed on Tuesday by a group of LGBTQ veterans seeks to address the U.S. Department of Defense’s failure to grant honorable discharges to service members who were fired before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011.

The five plaintiffs, all of whom were kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation, also want the agency to remedy other manifestations of this “ongoing discrimination,” including biased language in the discharge papers of LGBTQ veterans.

Their class action complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, notes that the federal government has made significant overtures to recognize and condemn “the decades of discriminatory policies it enforced against LGBTQ+ veterans.”

However, the lawsuit argues, the plaintiffs — along with “thousands of others who were involuntarily discharged under anti-LGBTQ+ policies — continue to combat the effects of this discrimination.”

Discharge papers, known as DD-214s, are required to access veterans’ benefits and apply for jobs, loans, and apartments.

A Department of Defense spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

News of the lawsuit was first reported on television Tuesday by CBS News, which has investigated the Pentagon’s failure to amend the service records of veterans who were dishonorably discharged because of their sexual orientation.

CBS found that “more than 29,000 individuals kicked out because of their sexuality were denied honorable discharges.”

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