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Deeply Divided: Supreme Court Hears Both Sides on Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Case

Deeply Divided: Supreme Court Hears Both Sides on Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Case

 

As supporters and protestors alike fervently debated the issue of same-sex marriage outside the United States Supreme Court building, justices inside were hesitant to extend a sweeping constitutional right for lesbians and gays to wed in all 50 states. 
IN the first of two days of hearings on the landmark cases, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is considered the decided vote on the split court, questioned whether the court should even be hearing the matter. 
 
“This was a deeply divided Court, and a court that appeared to be grabbing for an answer here,” reported CNN’s Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who attended the arguments over California’s Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex marriage. Voters approved the Proposition 8 proposal by a margin of 52 to 48 percent in November of 2008, less than six months after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a right that must be extended to gay couples. 
 
The fundamental legal question in the California case is whether the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection prevents individual state from defining marriage and instituting their marital laws. 
 
That said, it is also the question of whether the advocacy group appointed to defend the matter even possesses the legal standing to argue the case in court. 
 
Justice Anthony Kennedy raised concerns regarding whether the possibility of gay marriage was enough to establish a harmful effect on the gay community. Established the community as suffering harm is a key jurisdictional hurdle that allowed the gay community to appeal the matter in the first place. 
 
If the United States Supreme Court dismisses the appeal on the grounds that the activists do not have the standing to defend the matter in court it might uphold the lower federal court rulings, which declared the proposition as unconstitutional. 
 
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of back-to-back hearings on gay marriage laws. The Supreme Court will listen to arguments Wednesday on a separate challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which similar to the California law, defines marriage as between one man and one woman. 
 
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its final ruling on the matter sometime in June. 
 
Attorneys representing the couples seeking to overturn Prop 8 said they could not tell how the court would rule. “We are confident where the nation is going with this, but we do not know for sure what the United States Supreme Court is going to do. That said, we are very grateful that they heard the case, they asked the hard question and there is no denying where the right is.”
 
 
Source: whitehouse.gov

U.S. Senate

U.S. Senate

A Look at the U.S. Senate


The U.S. government consists of three branches of government, the judicial branch, executive branch, and the legislative branch. The legislative branch is then further broken down into the Senate and the House of Representative, together being referred to as the Congress.
The Senate is made up of two Senators from each state, for a total of 100 Senators. The Vice President of the U.S. also serves as the President of the Senate and as the power to vote on a decision that is tied.
Each member must be at least 30 years old and a citizen of the U.S. for at least nine years, as well as a current resident of the state they wish to represent. A senator serves a six year term that can be renewed without limit if the state if voted for through a popular election as defined by the 17th Amendment.
These terms are staggered and thus elections for Senators occur every two years for approximately a third of the Senate. One major purpose of this is to prevent having elections for both seats of a state at once.
The powers of the Senate are very clearly defined in the U.S. Constitution. They are the only body that has the power to confirm any appointments made by the President that needs consent. The Senate also has the exclusive power to ratify treaties.
The only exception to the Senate’s powers is that any treaty involving foreign trade or appointments to the Vice President must be approved by the House of Representative as well. The Senate also has the exclusive power of declaring war
Any legislation that has reached the President for his signature has already been passed by majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. If a President chooses to veto a bill, it can still be passed as long as the Senate and House both pass it again with a two-thirds majority.
There are currently 17 different committees and 70 subcommittees within the Senate. These amounts are not definite and are subject to change with every new Congress. In order to pass a bill through the Senate, it is first introduced within a subcommittee and can then be accepted, rejected, or amended. After the subcommittee decides to move the bill forward, then then goes to the full committee and if approved again, moved to the Senate floor.
Once on the Senate floor, there is a debate process where members speak about the bill or introduce amendments. These methods are often used to filibuster or delay a bill. In order to break a filibuster, 60 members, or a supermajority is needed. After debate ends, a simple majority can pass a bill.

And the Wait Begins: Arguments end in Second Same-Sex Marriage Case

And the Wait Begins: Arguments end in Second Same-Sex Marriage Case

 

A majority of Supreme Court justices posed questions in oral arguments today regarding the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, indicating the court may strike down a key part of the legislation that denies legally married gay couples the same benefits provided to straight couples. 
 
The court is expected to offer a ruling with three months on the constitutionality of the 1996 federal law that defines marriage for federal tax and benefit purposes as only between a man and a woman. 
 
Today’s arguments ended two days of presentations before the Supreme Court on one of the most landmark social issues of this generation—the right  married esbian and gay couples to receive the benefits of law provided to straight couples. 
 
Following the arguments, Edith Windsor, aged 83 stood on the steps of the courthouse and proclaimed something she kept secret for decades prior to her challenge against the Defense of Marriage Act. 
 
“I am a lesbian, okay, who just filed a lawsuit against the United States of America, which is overwhelming for me,” she proclaimed. She had just listened to two hours of arguments before the Supreme Court on whether or not she was required to pay higher estate taxes than someone in a heterosexual marriage. 
 
Windsor attempted to explain to the media why she and her deceased spouse, Thea Spyer married in the State of New York when the law was established decades after they first met. 
 
Marriage, Windsor said, is a “magic word, for anyone who does not understand why we want it and why we need it.”
 
Under the Federal Defense of Marriage act, pension, Social Security and bankruptcy benefits, along with other federal provisions, are not granted to lesbian and gay couples who are legally married in states that allow such unions. 
 
As a result of this federal law, Windsor was required to assume an estate tax bill that was much larger than what straight couples were required to pay. Moreover, because Windsor’s decades-long partner was a woman, the United States government did not recognize their same-sex marriage, even though their home state of New York did.  
The United States Supreme Court was divided among ideological lines during the arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. If legally married, lesbian and gay couples were denied more than 1,100 federal benefits. 
The potential swing judge, Justice Anthony Kennedy questioned the reach of the legislation, saying it represents a “grave risk of running into traditional state police powers to regulate marriage.”
 
This statement caused observers to speculate Kennedy joining the four liberal-leaning justices to create a majority against the Defense of Marriage Act. 
 
 
Source: Associated Press

Federalism

Federalism

A Look at Federalism in the United States


In the United States, government is recognized on both the state and national level. This relationship between the levels is known as federalism. While federalism in the United States responds to the political atmosphere, there still a balance between state and national government. 
The first American governments after the revolutionary war did not use federalism. Prior to the U.S. Constitution, America was made up of colonies that were under the rule of England. While these colonies did cooperate with each other, particularly during the Revolutionary war, they were essentially self-sustained bodies of government.
The idea of combining these smaller divisions to centralize government as is found in federalism was heavily criticized. These colonies had fought against the oppression of England, which had a central government, similar to the national government suggested in the U.S. Constitution. However, soon after declaring independence, it was clear that individual states would not be able to sustain themselves without creating some form of a central government 
Federalism helped unify the states without destroying all of their governing powers. For example, a centralized government allows the states to use the same currency. However, states would still be able to set their own laws as well, for example, whether a death penalty would be used in the state.
The U.S. Constitution was drafted, which carefully defined just how federalism would be and the relationship between the state and national government. It also worked to limit the national government’s power while protecting the rights of citizens.
While the type of federalism in the United States has varied throughout American history, there are still certain powers that will always remain so by the authority of the U.S. Constitution.
Reserved Powers: These are specifically for just the state, such as police powers, licensing, education, conducting elections, regulating intrastate commerce, and health regulations.
Granted Powers: These powers, sometimes called the enumerated or express powers are listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. These consist of the powers that the federal government have. Some examples include regulating commerce, coining money, declaring war, establishing post offices, collecting taxes and making legislation that enforces the Constitution.
Concurrent Powers: Powers that are held by both the state and federal government, for example taxation, setting up courts, creating and enforcing laws, constructing and maintaining roads, and certain spending.
While the powers of both the state and national governments are defined in the U.S. Constitution, there can be shifts to the balance in federalism.
For example, in the late 18th century, Americans were more concerned on strongly limiting the Federal government, but doing so made the Federal government effectively useless. It was necessary move away from the Federalist papers and to create a new government through the U.S. Constitution since states could not be expect to have objective and educated views on a national level.
The Federal government was given more power in the 19th century by Justice John Marshall who felt that the U.S. Constitution did not create defined layers of the government and portrayed this view in many of his rulings, such as how the Commerce Clause could be used by the Federal government as seen in Gibbons v. Ogden.
Justice Marshall’s attempt and strengthening the national government in federalism was slightly undone by Justice Taney, his successor who would felt that the national government was limited exclusively to the enumerated powers while the states would receive everything else.
Since the Regan administration up until the beginning of the 21st century, there was a push to return powers to the states from the Federal government, particularly through court decisions that evaluated the Federal government’s powers through gun possession, police powers, the Commerce clause, and agriculture.

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against City of San Jacinto

Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed Against City of San Jacinto


On November 13, 2012, the Justice Department announced that it filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of San Jacinto in California for violating the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.  The lawsuit was filed for the city’s treatment of group homes for disabled persons.  


According to the complaint, the city has made it extremely difficult for group homes of people with disabilities to remain and operate in the city.  The zoning codes currently state groups homes that are not required licensing from the state—and even some licensed homes—are not allowed zoning in the city.  


The complaint also alleges that the city targeted housing for people with disabilities during a sweep in November of 2008.  During the sweep, armed officers and deputies in uniform showed up to multiple residences, interrogated the residents with disabilities, and made them fill out a questionnaire intended for people with mental disabilities.  


The lawsuit occurred after the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) received a large number of complaints from operators of group homes around the city.  The Justice Department is asking the court to make the city stop enforcing the discriminatory laws and make reasonable accommodations for all group homes.  The Justice Department is also seeking monetary damages for victims of the civil rights violations.  


Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, stated, “No person should be denied an equal opportunity for housing in his or her community, or suffer harassment or intimidation, because he or she is a person with a disability.  The Justice Department is committed to preventing discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities.”


André Birotte, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central district of California, stated, “This suit is part of my office’s continuing efforts, in partnership with DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, to ensure that all residents of the Central District are accorded the rights to which there are entitled under the law.”


Source: U.S. Department of Justice
 

Structure of the U.S. States

Structure of the U.S. States

The Structure of the U.S. States
 
The United States is made up of 50 federated states that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this, an individual can be a citizen of both the State and the Federal entity simultaneously. This comes from the United States Constitution, which gives power to the both the state and federal government.
The U.S. state’s power is specifically delegated by the constitution in the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights which says that any power that is not given to the federal government or is then received by the States or to its people, as long is the power has not been specifically prohibited to the states.
Traditionally, the 10th amendment leaves certain things to be regulated by the U.S. states such as:
• Public health
• Public education
• Transportation
• Water supply
• Electrical grids
• Local law enforcement
• Roads
• Telecommunications
• Intrastate commerce
With certain amendments and interpretations of the Constitution, there has been an increasing trend of the federal government playing a stronger role.
U.S. states have the power to organize their governments however they see fit as long as it is constitutionally sound and it is a republic.  Most states have used a three-branch system that imitates that of the Federal government, with an executive, legislative, and a judiciary branch.
• The executive branch of a U.S. state is led by the governor, who is the chief executive. He leads the Cabinet of the State in states that have a plural executive and has the power to veto legislation.
• The legislative branch of a U.S. state is usually a bicameral legislature (the exception being Nebraska’s unicameral legislature). There is the state Senate, which is the upper house, and the lower house which can be the State Assembly, House of Delegates, or the House of Representatives.
• The organization of the judiciary branch can vary between U.S. states, but their purpose is to still protect an individual’s Constitutional rights through due process. Many states have different levels of courts, from trial level, to the first appellate, and the state Supreme Court. With the exception of Louisiana which uses civil or code law, all U.S. states use common law.
The U.S. started with just the original 13 and since then has expanded to 50 states. Article 4 Section 3 of the Constitution points out that while new states can be admitted into the Union by Congress, the new state cannot be made up from jurisdictions of other states, or the combination of multiple states, whether partially or fully, unless all involved state legislatures and Congress agree to it. However, most states have been incorporated after being a territory organized under Article 4 section 3’s Territorial Clause.

French Lawmakers Approve Same-Sex Marriage Bill

French Lawmakers Approve Same-Sex Marriage Bill


Same-sex marriage in France is now one step closer to legality, as lawmakers in the lower house of parliament approved a bill that extends the right to adopt and marry to same-sex couples.


The initiative secured approval in the National Assembly by a vote of 329 to 229 and 10 abstains. Before it can be placed into law, the bill must still go before the Senate; if passed, it would formally mark the most critical advancement for French gay rights advocates in more than 10 years.


France is not the only nation debating the polarizing issue of gay marriage, as UK lawmakers also took a big step last week toward legalizing the measure when they appropriated the second reading of a bill in the House of Commons.


While a significant number of Parliament members backed the legislation, which is backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, the push has prompted widespread controversy and rebellion within Cameron’s conservative party. The bill in the United Kingdom must go through several more stages before it can officially be made into a law. The Church of England, and other religious institutions, are among the organizations vehemently opposed to UK legislation.


Extending the right to adopt and marry to homosexual couples in France was one of President Hollande’s electoral pledges during his campaign efforts last year.


France’s National Assembly, which is dominated by Hollande’s Socialist Party, approved the most critical article of law with an overwhelming majority earlier this month. The left, which also controls the majority of the Senate, faces stiff opposition from social conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church as huge numbers routinely turn out for protest marches in the nation’s capital of Paris.
The archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, claims that offering marriage and adoption to same-sex couples would be viewed as a transformation of marriage that would impact everyone. The bishop went onto say that failing to recognize gender difference within the union of marriage would be a deceit that would damage the foundations of society and lead to widespread acts of discrimination.


That said, the legislation has secured wide backing from gay rights advocates, including from the French, gay, lesbian and transgender organization Inter-LGBT who claims that legislation would be a significant step forward for France in terms of equality of rights.


A law legalizing civil unions in France was passed in 1999 under a previous Socialist government. Known in the nation as PACS, the civil union agreement may be entered into by straight or homosexual couples and offers many but not all of the rights of a traditional marriage.
 

President Obama Re-Elected as US President

President Obama Re-Elected as US President


It was late on November 6, 2012, but President Obama clinched the re-election in an election some thought wouldn’t be decided for days.  The results were close as more and more people stood in lines at the polls, but it was clear President Obama was showing a strong lead going into the evening.  


President Obama initially won Michigan and New Hampshire, both states that were strongly divided between the two candidates.  The results in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin soon showed the Obama clinched two more swing states, and with the electoral votes from California, President Obama only had to win in Ohio.  


The results for Ohio were announced late Tuesday night and bumped up President Obama’s electoral votes to 275.  By Wednesday morning, President Obama had secured 303 electoral votes, and Governor Romney had secured 206 electoral votes.  Only Florida remains undecided, but President Obama showed a slight lead in the state’s majority vote.  If Obama wins Florida, the final electoral vote count will give President Obama a total of 332 electoral votes.  


The national popular vote remained extremely close, but President Obama also showed a slight lead in the popular vote.  


With President Obama’s victory, three US presidents in a row have been elected to a second term.  


During President Obama’s victory speech, he acknowledged Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan for their strong campaign.  He praised the United States and voters for their support, but he made a clear statement that the work required by citizens to improve the country does not end with the election.


President Obama ended the speech on a powerful note and gave his ideal of the United States.  He blessed the United States and praised the country as a place where everyone has an equal opportunity if they work hard, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or who they love.  


Following the election, President Obama now faces budgetary issues in the United States and must work with Congress to set up a budget to avoid another fiscal cliff.

Residents Should Use Safety as Winter Storm Athena Nears

Residents Should Use Safety as Winter Storm Athena Nears


As winter storm Athena gets close to the Northeast states—especially areas affected by Hurricane Sandy—the Fire Administration (USFA) urges residents to take safety precautions while staying warm in order to avoid fires.  


Winter storm Athena is impacting mid-Atlantic and Northeast states at this moment, and the conditions are expected to continue through the night.  


The USFA suggests the following steps to prevent fires during the winter storm:


•    contact the fire department right away if you smell natural gas and exit the building right away
•    do not use an oven range to heat your home
•    keep anything at least three feet away from a space heater
•    make sure your space heaters have a “tip switch”
•    only use fuel the heater calls for
•    do not fill up a space heater if it’s still hot or still turned on
•    put a glass or metal screen in front of your fireplace to catch sparks
•    make sure your wood stove is working properly and has enough ventilation
•    do not put space heaters on carpets or rugs
•    open the damper for the fireplace before you light a fire
•    never leave a space heater on when you sleep


The USFA recommends the following to prevent CO poisoning during the winter storm:


•    do not run a gasoline generator in your home
•    keep the portable generator as far away from your home and your neighbor’s home as possible
•    don’t use a portable propane heater indoors unless the heater is designed for inside use
•    do not use gas or electric stoves to provide heat for your home
•    ask if a space heater is safety-certified before you purchase one


Source: U.S. Fire Administration
 

McCarthyism

McCarthyism

McCarthyism before McCarthy
“McCarthyism” is a term that was coined by a cartoon by Herbert Block featured in the Washington Post on March, 29, 1950. It was used to describe the campaigned carried out by Joseph R. McCarthy, who at the time was a Republican Senator of Wisconsin. 
While McCarthyism described the period which Joseph McCarthy campaigned, there were preexisting attitudes from events over 30 years prior that created what is now known as the McCarthy era.
The start of McCarthyism and the McCarthy era can be earliest tracked from the 1910’s. After World War I, there was an extreme sense of patriotism in American society. From here came the birth of the First Red Scare from 1919 to 1920.
There was a nationwide fear of dissent from the government, particularly from communists, anarchists, and socialists. During this time, many civil liberties were ignored, and innocent people were jailed for expressing their dissent. 
Americans were very concerned about the possibility of communists infiltrating the United States, where they could potentially subvert labor unions, schools, and other institutions. There was particular concern with the labor unions, as two of the largest unions had strong objections to WWI and had even held strikes for various reasons. These strikes were often associated to “Reds,” demonizing many of the strikes after as crimes against society to conspire against the government and establish communism.
In the aftermath of World War II and the deconstruction of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Russia was quickly becoming a powerful and influential force on the global stage. Russia was extending communist influence over many parts of Eastern Europe and China was at this point on the verge of becoming a communist state. The Korean War also demonstrated the fight against Communists, as the United States, South Korea, and the U.N. fought against North Korean and Chinese communists.
Both Government and private agencies began to investigate, hoping to find evidence of this subversive activity. In the 1930’s the House Committee on Un-American Activities was formed, and was revived throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s.
In 1950, Joseph R. McCarthy was a young Senator who was hoping to seek political gain. He created an effective and well publicized, but morally questionable campaign using what is now known as McCarthyism, which relentlessly sought to expose Communists in the United States. His McCarthyism-filled Anticommunist campaign, which continued till 1953, attempted to identify and eliminate communists as well as “fellow travelers” in the government. 
In the same year, McCarthy claimed he had a list of 205 names of individuals who were Communists working within the State Department, which he never released. Many Congress members approved of his questionable ethics due to the success he received from them. It was the use of these heavy-handed tactics that Herbert Block coined McCarthyism in his cartoon, just weeks after the announcement of this list.
The Senator’s use of McCarthyism was initially endorsed by many voters and politicians, but ultimately McCarthy destroyed his reputation when he attacked the U.S. army by accusing them of promoting communists. He submitted evidence that was found to be fraudulent and after attempting to wrongly discredit one of the attorneys hired by the U.S. Army, his McCarthyism was quickly exposed his popularity effectively vanished, followed by weakened attitudes of McCarthyism.