A Trumpcare opponent being carried from a sit-in outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Thursday morning after the Republicans released their draft version of a healthcare overhaul bill. (Photo: Screenshot/CNBC)
Soon after a draft version of the Republican’s Senate version of their Trumpcare care bill was released Thursday morning, Capitol Hill Police were systematically arresting people who staged a dramatic sit-in outside of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
Amid chants of “Don’t Touch Medicaid!” and signs suggesting the same, many of those protesting the Senate bill were either elderly or in wheelchairs, offering a stunning visual as police tried to remove them from the hallway. Continue reading →
Protestors gather outside the hotel where Republican Rep. John Faso is scheduled to speak in Schoharie, New York. Congressman Faso has an 89.7% track record for voting “Yes” on Trump initiatives. Photo by Reggie Harris.
I’m leafing through a stack of protest signs in the corner of the mudroom, reading the markered letters, looking to see what can be recycled for tonight. The subjects we’ve collected thus far are about human rights and the environment. It looks like we’ll need to draft something fresh and new for tonight, because the topic is health care. Our Republican congressman, John Faso, has an 89.7 percent track record for voting “Yes” on Trump initiatives. He hasn’t been holding town meetings with constituents, he and his staff have stopped responding to letters, I’ve never had a phone call even answered, and his recent vote to repeal ObamaCare in the House has sparked this last minute protest down in the village of Schoharie, New York, where he’s the keynote speaker at a countywide Republican fundraiser. Continue reading →
Activists protest the nomination of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/cc/flickr)
It turns out, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Scott Pruitt’s plan to gut environmental protections is wildly unpopular as a call for public comment amassed nearly 60,000 responses that ranged from simply “No” to passionate reminders that the “EPA is for the people.”
The public comment period, which closed on Monday, gave voters a chance to weigh-in on President Donald Trump’s effort to “alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens,” as stated in a February executive order that directed federal agencies to “evaluate existing regulations…and make recommendations…regarding their repeal, replacement, or modification.” Continue reading →
Organizers said that an estimated 200,000 participated in the flagship Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., while tens of thousands more demonstrated at more than 350 solidarity events in cities across the United States as well as in Asia and Europe.
Following closely on last week’s March for Science, activists are preparing for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29. This event will mark President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and comes as the Trump administration is debating whether the United States should continue to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.
“Instead of funding President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, we are seeking additional funding for our nation’s public schools.” (Photo: doug turetsky/flickr/cc)
More than 150 advocacy groups sent a letter (pdf) to Congress on Thursday urging lawmakers to reject President Donald Trump’s proposal to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and spend the money on education instead.
Trump’s “targeting of Muslims, refugees, and undocumented immigrants…are eroding the trust built by educators, parents, law enforcement, and communities over decades,” the letter states.
Its signatories include the Center for Popular Democracy, SEIU, and the National Immigration Law Center, among other community groups and labor unions. Continue reading →
An estimated 10,000 people took part in the March for Science in Berlin, Germany, on Saturday. (Photo: Stand With CEU/Twitter)
Tens of thousands are celebrating Earth Day by marching Saturday against President Donald Trump’s ongoing attacks on science, in an unprecedented global uprising of scientists against the anti-science Trump administration.
Demonstrators at the Tax March on April 15 in New York City. (Photo: Michael Kink/Twitter)
As millions of Americans file their tax returns, and days after tens of thousands of marched to demand that President Donald Trump make his tax returns public, the president is still refusing to release his returns.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated the claim that Trump can’t release his taxes because they are under audit, a statement immediately refuted by tax experts. Continue reading →
Dashni Morad. (Credit: John Wright, February 2016)
As the battle for Mosul nears its conclusion, the fate of civilian survivors remains uncertain. The Kurdish singer and humanitarian Dashni Morad, whose youth was defined by conflict in the region, aims to highlight the psychological scars of living under a brutal regime. In 2014, Morad raised funds for refugee camps outside Mosul, where she witnessed the impact of three years of war on displaced children. Tutored only in fear, the children are aggressive even in play: “it made me so upset to see that a kid can be taken from its inner child”, she says. “It is the worst thing you can do to a human being – to take away that magical world”. Continue reading →
These hearings often are contentious. That was the case for Justice Clarence Thomas in the early 1990s. And they surely won’t be a cake walk this time, given Democratic anger over Republican inaction on Merrick Garland, former President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.
An obvious question for Judge Gorsuch is his view of the court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. That five-to-four decision divided sharply along perceived partisan lines. It affected the speech rights of corporations and unions in funding political ads shortly before elections. Committee Democrats no doubt will grill Gorsuch about Citizens United.
As the director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, I would like to suggest at least three other timely and vital questions he should be asked about speech rights – but that I doubt he will face.
Capturing cops on camera in public
The first question I’d pose to Gorsuch involves an issue the Supreme Court has never tackled – does the First Amendment protect a person’s right to record police officers doing their jobs in public places?
It’s a vital question in light of incidents such as the April 2015 shooting in the back of unarmed African-American Walter Scott by white police officer Michael Slager in South Carolina. A video of it was captured on a smartphone by barber Feidin Santana while walking to work. It was key evidence in Slager’s murder trial – which ended with a hung jury.
Without guidance from the Supreme Court about recording cops in public venues, lower courts have had to sort it out for themselves.
Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit concluded in Turner v. Driver that “First Amendment principles, controlling authority, and persuasive precedent demonstrate that a First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.” That’s a positive step in terms of creating a constitutional right to record cops within the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. But just what constitutes a “reasonable” restriction is extremely vague and problematic, especially because judges usually defer to officers’ judgments.
Worse still, some courts haven’t even recognized any First Amendment right to record police.
Gorsuch thus should be asked: “Do citizens have a First Amendment right to record police doing their jobs in public places and, if there is such a right, what – if any – are the specific limits on that right?”
Gorsuch should be questioned about the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and the limits on that right affecting political demonstrations on public streets, sidewalks and parks. The Supreme Court privileges such “quintessential public forums” for picketing and protests, and it carefully reviews any restrictions imposed there on speech and assembly. Would Gorsuch follow that tradition of protection?
Disturbingly, The New York Times reported earlier this month that lawmakers in more than 15 states are considering bills that would curb, to varying degrees, the right to protest. Some measures, such as Florida Senate Bill 1096, do so by requiring a special event permit be obtained before any protest on a street, thus stifling spontaneous demonstrations that might occur after a controversial executive order or a startling jury verdict.
Gorsuch thus should be asked: “What, if any, limits are there on the First Amendment right to engage in political speech in public spaces, including streets, sidewalks and parks?”
The right to offend
Finally, I’d ask Gorsuch for his views about the First Amendment right to offend. It’s an important topic today for three reasons.
First, protesters may use offensive language to capture attention and show the passion behind their views. The Supreme Court traditionally protects offensive political speech, as it famously did in 1971 in Cohen v. California. There it ruled in favor of Paul Robert Cohen’s First Amendment right to wear a jacket with the words “F— the Draft” in a Los Angeles courthouse hallway.
Second, some believe there’s a pall of political correctness in society, particularly in higher education. Some students may be deterred from using certain language or expressing particular viewpoints for fear they will offend others and thus be punished.
Third, the Supreme Court is set to rule in the coming months in a case called Lee v. Tam. It centers on the power of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to deny an Asian-American band called The Slants trademark registration over that name because it allegedly disparages Asians. The court heard oral argument in the case in January.
I’d thus ask Gorsuch: “When does offensive expression – in particular, offensive speech on political and social issues – lose protection under the First Amendment?”
Gorsuch already has submitted written answers to the Judiciary Committee on some issues, but not on the questions raised here. These topics – filming cops in public, protesting on streets and sidewalks, and using offensive language – seem especially relevant in a turbulent Trump era.