He was also given a 3-year suspended sentence for a firearms conviction.
Last month, Judge Thokozile Masipa found the double-amputee athlete not guilty of murder, but guilty of culpable homicide.
Pistorius, 27, did not dispute that he shot and killed Steenkamp. However, Pistorius argued that he believed she was an intruder when he shot her through a locked bathroom door at his home in Pretoria in the early-morning hours of Feb. 14, 2013.
Prosecutors had called for a minimum of 10 years in prison, while attorneys for Pistorius suggested a lighter sentence combining house arrest with community service, saying prisons would not be able to accommodate his disability, according to The Associated Press.
His attorneys also said the leader of a prison gang had threatened Pistorius.
Pistorius rose to fame by competing in running events while wearing the blade-like prosthetics that gave him his nickname, “Blade Runner.” In 2012, he became the first amputee to compete in an Olympic track event, running in two events in the 2012 Summer Games in London.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that Pistorius had been given a suspended sentence. He was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the count of culpable homicide, and 3 years suspended for the firearms count.
BREAKING: Oscar Pistorius has been sentenced to 5 years in prison for culpable homicide. #OscarTrial #PistoriusTrial #OscarPistorius
— Justin Gibson (@JGibsonDem)October 21, 2014
BREAKING: Oscar Pistorius sentenced to 5 years in prison pic.twitter.com/RoRAyWgO49— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews)October 21, 2014
#OscarPistorius Masipa: 27 years old, double amputee, no employment, no previous convictions.— Gia Nicolaides (@GiaNicolaides)October 21, 2014
#OscarPistorius Masipa: Corrections certain it could deal with disabilities among prisoners— Laurel Irving (@laurelirving7)October 21, 2014
Masipa turns to #OscarPistorius’ personal circumstances: currently not employed, single, no previous convictions, double amputee.— Nastasya Tay (@NastasyaTay)October 21, 2014
The judge is known to give harsh sentences for violence against women so that should have a bearing on #OscarPistorius sentencing— Drew (@KhocolateRain)October 21, 2014
#OscarPistorius Masipa: This would not be the first time they deal with a disabled accused - I believe they are equipped to deal with OP.— POWER987 News (@POWER987News)October 21, 2014
#OscarPistorius Masipa: If an inmate required a bench in the shower - I cannot think that he would not be accommodated.— POWER987 News (@POWER987News)October 21, 2014
Both offences by #OscarPistorius “very serious” says Judge, citing “gross negligence” argument of prosecution.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH)October 21, 2014
Judge accepts #OscarPistorius remorse, as shown in court and in efforts to reach out to R Steenkamp’s family.— andrew harding (@BBCAndrewH)October 21, 2014
#OscarPistorius Courts do not exist to win popularity contests, says Masipa— Kamva Somdyala (@kamva_somdyala)October 21, 2014
“The loss of life cannot be reversed… hopefully this sentence will provide some sort of closure for the family” - Masipa #OscarPistorius— The New Daily (@TheNewDaily_)October 21, 2014
Masipa says correctional supervision, suggested by Marinag adn Vergeer, is not appropriate #OscarPistorius MV— Jacaranda Newsteam (@JacaNews)October 21, 2014
— Seala (@seala_m)October 21, 2014
Judge also refuses to put his ruling on hold during any possible appeal.
WASHINGTON — Arizona’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick struck down the state’s ban based on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision striking down Idaho and Nevada’s similar bans.
Additionally, he refused to grant a stay of his opinion, meaning the decision goes into effect immediately.
Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon hear cases with national implications challenging the state’s marriage equality ban and its abortion clinic buffer-zone law.
The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.
What’s more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.
The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana
At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.
A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”
VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.
VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.
Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.
Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke’s last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.
Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.
Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.
Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.
And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”
All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, “Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”
The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.
"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."
‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’
While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.
Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”
One lawmaker wrote of the need to “purge” the party of moderates, after which “a new phoenix will rise from the ashes.”
In 2012, Montana conservatives were able to elect the likeminded Laurie McKinnon to the state Supreme Court thanks in part to a dark money group called the “Montana Growth Network” run by a Republican state senator that spent at least $42,000 on her campaign — more than the candidate spent herself. The “Montanans for a Fair Judiciary” group that has been campaigning for VanDyke is linked to the firm that was employed by the “Montana Growth Network” to boost McKinnon.
National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.
Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.
Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. And four same-sex couples have filed a challenge to the state’s marriage equality ban, potentially making Montana one of the next states to address the issue.
A Movement Candidate
Although Montana’s judicial elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, VanDyke’s resume makes him seemingly a perfect candidate for conservative activists hoping to drag the state’s high court to the right. At Harvard Law School, VanDyke was active in the conservative Federalist Society and wrote an article for the school’s law review favorably reviewing a book arguing for allowing public schools to teach anti-scientific Intelligent Design.
In an article for another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)
After graduating from law school, VanDyke clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, perhaps the most stridently conservative of that court’s activist pro-corporate wing, known for her extreme opposition to government regulation and her writing of a prequel to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. After a stint at Gibson Dunn, VanDyke became an assistant solicitor general in Texas and was named solicitor general of Montana early last year.
In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.
VanDyke has also hinted that he would be more favorable to business interests on the court, touting an endorsement from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and saying, “I don’t think anybody who follows our court thinks it’s a pro-business court.” On his website, he backs efforts to “produce and preserve” natural resources, which he contrasts with his opponent’s siding with preservationists in a dispute over drilling gas wells. In September, he spoke at a “Coal Appreciation Day” sponsored by a coal industry group.
VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”
VanDyke recently announced that he had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
In his role as solicitor general, VanDyke also worked on efforts to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion rights, including signing on to amicus briefs filed in other states.
VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge…I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”
Judicial Elections Draw More And More Big Money
Last year, Justice at Stake reported on the fast increase of spending in judicial elections, leading to judicial races seeming “alarmingly indistinguishable from ordinary political campaigns” and blurring “the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law.”
Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.
It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.
h/t: Miranda Blue at RWW
Watch Ted Olson Destroy The Conservative Argument That Overturning Same-Sex Marriage Bans Is "Judicial Activism"
From the 10.12.2014 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday:
OLSON: We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights precisely because we want protections from majority rule. When the majority in a legislature or a popular vote take away rights of individuals that are protected by the Bill of Rights, then we have an independent judiciary to rectify that situation. It’s happened again, and again, and again throughout this country’s history. We have an independent judiciary to protect the rights of individuals like gay and lesbian citizens who only want respect, decency, and equality along with the rest of us.
BREAKING: North Carolina’s Amendment 1 has been struck down.
Good news! Two states had their “Voter ID” laws, aka Voter Suppression laws struck down.
The overturn of the Texas voter ID law is great news for democracy. I call on @GregAbbott_TX to drop his defense of this “poll tax.”— Wendy Davis (@WendyDavisTexas) October 10, 2014
BREAKING: Here’s the tweet that could lead to a new grand jury in Ferguson, MO.
#Ferguson: @shaunking took screenshot of tweeter @thesusannichols who claims to know juror on #MikeBrown #DarrenWilson grand jury & appears to be receiving leaked information. King says that within seconds of posting this, her friends told her to delete it & she did but not before it was screenshotted. She has since deleted her entire account but King says they checked & she is indeed a #STL resident w/ years’ worth of tweets from there. “If true, her tweet not only reveals a leak in the grand jury, but gives us an ugly glimpse into how things have gone so far. This person who posted it on twitter & her contact on the grand jury must be fully & completely investigated & removed if it’s true.”-@shaunking
The Shawnee County district court said it could dismiss the case both because the plaintiff, a registered Democratic voter, David Orel, failed to show for the oral hearing and on the merits.
Orel had sued to force his party to pick a new nominee after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who attempted to join him in the lawsuit, to remove former Democratic nominee Chad Taylor from the ballot.
"The legal history for the proper context to be placed on this statute and what we believe is its commonsense meaning reflects a discretionary judgment is left to be made by the political party of the withdrawn candidate as to whether a vacancy is to be filled or not," the court wrote. "Therefore, mandamus, as a remedy, is simply not appropriate given the discretion, the intrusiveness and the impracticality that giving jurisdictional recognition to the Plaintiff or the relief sought would otherwise demand."
Kobach sided with Orel and attempted to be made a party to the lawsuit. Since Taylor announced he would withdraw from the race, Kobach has been working to keep a Democratic nominee on the ballot, first by ruling that Taylor must stay on the ballot then by backing Orel’s lawsuit after the state’s high court overruled him.
"I believe this is the end of the road for this case," election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California-Irvine wrote on his blog, though he acknowledged that Kobach could try to appeal to the state’s supreme court.
"If there were more time, a possible appeal to the Kansas Supreme Court could be a possibility," he wrote. "But to bring it now would be a fool’s errand, and if Kobach brings it he’ll look even more partisan than he has looked in this whole mess."
Without a Democratic nominee, the Senate race is down to Orman and Roberts, which was the goal of the Democratic maneuvering all along. Early polling since Taylor’s withdrawal has shown Orman with a clear lead on Roberts. He holds a 1-point edge, according to TPM’s PollTracker average.
h/t: Dylan Scott at TPM
Michael Dunn found guilty of 1st-degree murder in Florida
First Coast News: Michael Dunn was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Jordan Davis in 2012 after a dispute over loud music.
A jury previously convicted Dunn of three counts of attempted second-degree murder at his first trial in February for the teens inside the SUV with Davis when he died, but deadlocked on a murder charge for the death of Davis.
Photo credit: Bob Self/Staff Photographer
Much of the Affordable Care Act must be defunded and millions of Americans must lose their health insurance, according to an opinion issued Tuesday by Judge Ronald A. White, an Oklahoma federal judge appointed to the bench by George W. Bush. White’s opinion reaches the same result reached by two Republican appeals court judges in a similar case, although that decision was later withdrawn by the full appeals court. To date, nine federal judges have considered this question of whether much of the law should be defunded. Only three — all of whom are Republicans — have agreed that it should be.
The theory behind this lawsuit, Pruitt v. Burwell, is that although the Affordable Care Act gives states a choice between setting up their own health insurance marketplaces or permitting the federal government to do it for them, health exchanges run by the federal government cannot provide subsidies to help insurance customers pay for their insurance. Should this theory ultimately be embraced by the courts, it will likely trigger a “death spiral” of premium spikes that will drive more and more consumers out of the insurance market, until the markets eventually collapse. As ThinkProgress previously explained, the thrust of the plaintiffs legal argument in this and similar cases is that Obamacare “is supposed to create barren health exchanges where little or no health insurers offer exorbitantly priced insurance that hardly anyone can afford,” and that it was supposed to create these useless exchanges despite the fact that the law explicitly states that it will achieve “near-universal coverage by building upon and strengthening the private employer-based health insurance system.”
There are many flaws in this legal theory, and we lay out several of them here and here. Nevertheless, it is worth noting a few flaws in Judge White’s legal reasoning that appear unique to his own opinion.
One thing that immediately stands out in White’s opinion is just how thin his legal reasoning is. Despite the fact that this case concerns a matter of life and death for the millions of Americans he orders uninsured, his actual discussion of the merits of this case comprises less than 7 double-spaced pages of his opinion. In that brief analysis he quotes the two other Republican judges who ordered Obamacare defunded, claiming that “the government offers no textual basis” in the Affordable Care Act itself for treating federally-run exchanges the same as those run by states. In fact, the government has identified numerous provisions of the law which cut against the argument that only some exchanges should provide subsidies.
Even more significantly, White’s opinion does not at any point acknowledge the legal standard that applies when a statute contains language that is at odds with other provisions of the law. As the Supreme Court explained in 2007, “a reviewing court should not confine itself to examining a particular statutory provision in isolation” as the “meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” White, by contrast, relies entirely a passage that supports the plaintiffs’ arguments while ignoring the much more prevalent statutory language that supports the government’s argument.
Instead of following Supreme Court precedent, White relies heavily on analysis from a very ideological law professor. Though White’s analysis is quite short, he devotes much of it to a lengthy quote by Professor Richard Epstein, a prominent conservative academic who agrees that Obamacare should be defunded. Epstein has also described Supreme Court opinions establishing the fact that Medicare is constitutional as “catastrophic, ignorant, and uninformed decisions.” So he is a very odd source for a federal judge to rely upon in assessing the correct state of the law.
Towards the end of his opinion, White claims that the reading he gives to the Affordable Care Act — a reading which assumes that the lawmakers who enacted this politically contentious law intended to give every Republican governor in the country the power to blow up one of its central functions in their state — is not “absurd” because “it could reflect the sort of compromise that attends legislative endeavor.” Yet the only evidence he provides that Congress may have intended to “compromise” by giving Rick Perry the power to destroy Obamacare in Texas is a now-infamous quote by Professor Jonathan Gruber. Gruber is an economist who consulted with Congress in designing the law. In 2012, nearly two years after the Affordable Care Act became law, Gruber was recorded giving a talk where he said that “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.”
Yet, while Gruber did indeed utter these words and they may seem damning out of context — to the extent that a statement made by a non-lawmaker long after a statute becomes law is useful in assessing the lawmakers’ intent — Judge White probably should have watched the entire video where Gruber made this statement before he cited the statement as evidence of how Obamacare was supposed to function. Here is the Gruber quote in context:
Yes, so these health insurance exchanges … will be these new shopping places and they’ll be the place that people go to get their subsidies for health insurance. In the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will. The federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop, I think, partly because I think they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it.
I think what’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits — but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges.
Read in context, Gruber’s infamous quote takes on an entirely different meaning. It suggests that he was concerned that some people may not get insurance subsides because “federal government has been sort of slow in putting up its backstop” not because the law forbids federally-run exchanges from providing subsidies. To the contrary, Gruber explains, “[i]n the law it says if the states don’t provide them the federal backstop will.”
So White’s opinion is poorly reasoned. It ignores binding Supreme Court precedent. And it engages in selective quotation to support his conclusion. If it is reviewed by a panel of judges interested in neutrally applying the law, White will be reversed.
There is no guarantee, however, that the judges who review White’s decision will be able to set aside their partisan preferences, whatever they may be. Indeed, one of the leading attorneys spearheading these attacks on the Affordable Care Act recently told a reporter that he believes he is going to win because he does not expect to “lose any Republican-appointed judges’ votes.”
White’s opinion suggests that this attorney may be correct that judges will vote their political party, rather than voting the law when they decide this and similar cases.
BREAKING: Bob McDonnell found guilty of 11 counts, all corruption; Maureen McDonnell guilty on 8 corruption counts, obstruction of justice. #McDonnellTrial
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge Friday threw out new Texas abortion restrictions that would have effectively closed more than a dozen clinics statewide in a victory for opponents of tough new anti-abortion laws sweeping across the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with clinics that sued over one of the most disputed measures of a sweeping anti-abortion bill signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2013. The ruling stops new clinic requirements that would have left seven abortion facilities in Texas come Monday, when the law was set to take effect.
Texas currently has 19 abortion providers — already down from more than 40 just two years ago, according to groups that sued the state for the second time over the law known as HB2.
"The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion," Yeakel wrote in his 21-page ruling.
The ruling blocks a portion of the that law would have required abortion facilities in Texas to meet hospital-level operating standards, which supporters say will protect women’s health. But Yeakel concluded the intent was only to “close existing licensed abortion clinics.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican who is the favorite to become governor next year, vowed to seek an immediate appeal to try to preserve the new clinic rules.
Clinics called the measures a backdoor effort to outlaw abortions, which has been a constitutional right since the Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.
Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in Texas would have been in major cities, and there would have been none in the entire western half of the nation’s second-largest state. For women in El Paso, the closest abortion provider would be in New Mexico — an option the state wanted Yeakel to take into consideration, even though New Mexico’s rules for abortion clinics are far less rigorous.
"It’s an undue burden for women in Texas — and thankfully today the court agreed," said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which would have been among the clinic operators affected. "The evidence has been stacking up against the state and against the politicians who so cynically passed these laws in the name of safety."
Miller said that she will now seek to re-open a clinic in the Rio Grande Valley — where there hasn’t been an abortion provider for months — as soon as this weekend.
The new Texas restrictions would have required clinics to have operating rooms, air filtration systems and other standards that are typically only mandated in surgical settings.
Some clinics in Texas already stopped offering abortions after another part of the 2013 bill required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. That part of the law has been upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court in New Orleans, where the state will now seek a second reversal.
"The State disagrees with the court’s ruling and will seek immediate relief from the Fifth Circuit, which has already upheld HB2 once," Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said.
Similar rules on admitting privileges have been blocked by federal courts in Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin.
Attorneys for the state denied that women would be burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider. Critics say that still leaves nearly a million Texas women embarking on drives longer than three hours to get an abortion.
Opposition to the Texas law was so visible that Democrat Wendy Davis launched her campaign for governor behind the celebrity she achieved through a nearly 13-hour filibuster last summer that temporarily blocked the bill in the state Senate.
Her opponent in November is Abbott.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is a very conservative court. Seven of its ten active judges are Republicans, and these Republicans include some committed allies of the conservative Federalist Society. Nevertheless, anti-gay conservatives are likely to have little to celebrate once the Seventh Circuit hands down its closely watched decision in a pair of marriage equality cases the court will hear Tuesday. The Seventh Circuit just announced the three-judge panel who will hear this case — Judges Richard Posner, Anne Claire Williams and David Hamilton — and that appears to be very good news for Team Equality.
Judge Posner is the sole Republican on the panel — he’s served on the Court since President Reagan appointed him in 1981 — but he is a highly idiosyncratic judge who has grown increasingly critical of his fellow partisans in recent years. In a 2012 interview, for example, Posner complained that “there’s been a real deterioration in conservative thinking. And that has to lead people to re-examine and modify their thinking.” He added that he has personally “become less conservative since the Republican Party started becoming goofy.”
On the specific issue of gay rights, Posner’s views are a bit nuanced, but he is openly sympathetic to the case for equality. In a 2013 essay entitled “How Gay Marriage Became Legitimate,” Posner questioned the view that the courts have played much of a role in advancing LGBT equality. Using antiquated language, Posner’s bottom line was that “the growing acceptance of homosexual marriage seems a natural consequence of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s rather than an effect, even to a small degree, of litigation.” Yet he was also dismissive of arguments against gay equality. “[I]t is hard to make a case for discriminating against [gay people],” Posner wrote, “apart from a religious case based largely on Roman Catholic doctrine.”
Judge Williams is less outspoken than Posner — few, if any judges, share Posner’s affection for expressing his views in public — but she is a Clinton-appointee to the Seventh Circuit who is widely viewed as left-of-center. Given the overwhelming consensus among federal judges that marriage equality is required by the Constitution, it is unlikely that Williams will break with this consensus.
That leaves Judge Hamilton. Hamilton was literally the first judge President Obama nominated to a seat on the federal bench. Although the White House attempted to sell Hamilton as a moderate, most Senate Republicans filibustered his nomination in large part due to a handful of opinions he handed down as a federal district judge on social issues such as abortion and religion. As with Williams, it is unlikely that Hamilton will break with the widespread judicial consensus supporting equality.
All of this, of course, is said with a standard caveat. It ain’t over until the court issues its mandate, and there is no way to be certain about how any of these judges will rule. Nevertheless, marriage equality supporters should be very pleased with this panel.
On Tuesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law that would have closed down Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, invalidating a 2012 measure requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals. The state’s only two abortion providers fly in from out of state to serve patients and were repeatedly denied partnerships with local hospitals.
The three-judge panel ruled that since the U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion, “Mississippi may not shift its obligation for established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state,” the Associated Press reports.
“Pre-viability, a woman has the constitutional right to end her pregnancy by abortion. H.B. 1390 effectively extinguishes that right within Mississippi’s borders,” judges E. Grady Jolly of Mississippi and Stephan A. Higginson of Louisiana wrote in the 2-1 ruling. Jolly was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, while Higginson was appointed by President Barack Obama.
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization clinic has operated for nearly two decades and has become the state’s sole abortion provider. Back in 1981, Mississippi had as many as 14 different facilities that offered abortion services.
More than half the states have enacted laws that limit women’s access to abortion services by requiring clinics to undergo unnecessary and expensive renovations, including widening hallways, building closets, and installing water fountains. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes these so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws. Still, TRAP laws have already closed more than 50 abortion clinics over the past several years.
Today’s verdict is a victory for the people of Mississippi and for the supporters of reproductive choice.
h/t: Igor Volsky at Think Progress Health