San Diego Shames Supreme Court

I’ve previously posted about a number of recent Supreme Court cases that have ignored long-time precedents, cherry-picked history, or otherwise done violence to the philosophical basis of the Constitution and the rule of law. One that I haven’t previously addressed falls into a somewhat different category: it’s just wrong and mean-spirited.

The case–Grants Pass v. Johnson–involved an Oregon city that had passed ordinances prohibiting people from sleeping outside in public using a blanket, pillow or cardboard sheet to lie on, even if those people have no other option, i.e., are homeless.

Those challenging the ordinances relied upon the earlier case of Robinson v. California, which had held that it is “cruel and unusual”  to criminalize a person’s status, but the majority held that Robinson didn’t apply–that the ordinances penalize behavior rather than status. As a result of that analysis, municipalities can do what Grants Pass did, and subject unhoused people to hundreds of dollars in fines and even jail time for sleeping outside, even when the city admittedly lacks enough shelter beds for them.

The decision reversed a far more reasonable opinion by the Ninth Circuit; that Court held that punishing unhoused people for sleeping in public when they have no access to shelter violates the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

The ACLU submitted a brief on behalf of the challengers, and issued a statement on the decision.

“It is hard to imagine a starker example of excessive punishment than fining and jailing a person for the basic human act of sleeping,” said Scout Katovich, staff attorney in the Trone Center for Justice and Equality. “As Justice Sotomayor’s dissent powerfully acknowledged, sleep is a biological necessity, not a crime. We cannot arrest our way out of homelessness, and we will continue litigating against cities that are emboldened by this decision to treat unhoused people as criminals.”

The American Civil Liberties Union submitted a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that punishing unhoused people for sleeping outside when they lack access to shelter violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. As the brief highlights, the original intent and meaning of the Eighth Amendment and its application in more than a century of Supreme Court cases make clear that the government cannot impose punishment that is disproportionate to the crime.

There is obviously a great deal more that can be said about this decision, but the practical reality is that it allows local governments to criminalize a social problem. Allowing municipalities to punish homelessness does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the problem. (For that matter, allowing fines to be assessed is asinine; people who cannot afford a bed don’t have resources to pay fines.)

San Diego takes a very different, and far smarter approach to the issue. People who are unsheltered or living in their cars can access parking lots that have been modified to provide more than just a place to stay.

San Diego currently operates four lots where people living in cars or RVs can park overnight, with access to restrooms, services and treatment.

The H Barracks location adds 190 parking spaces, which will nearly double the capacity of the city’s safe parking program.

It’ll be located on five acres between the airport and Liberty Station, and it would serve the large population of people living in oversized vehicles in the Peninsula area.

 The pet-friendly lot will be open overnight — 6pm-7am — with onsite security, as well as bathrooms and showers, according to the report.

The lots provide onsite services for case management, housing, health care, mental and behavioral health, plus substance-abuse treatment resources, and patrons are prohibited from drug and alcohol use. Registered sex offenders are not allowed.

The Supreme Court’s tone-deaf opinion effectively allowing municipalities to criminalize homelessness is a classic example of hitting people when they’re down. As a matter of law, it is fatally flawed; as a matter of policy, it’s clueless.

Calling homelessness a “behavior” rather than a status suggests that it is chosen–that it represents a decision made by an individual to forego habitation. Allowing local officials to punish unhoused people is simply cruel. As numerous critics of the decision have pointed out, governments cannot punish their way out of homelessness and poverty. What is needed is evidence-based solutions.

Officials in San Diego obviously recognize that. It will be interesting to see whether that city’s innovative approach results in a reduction of the number of homeless, and whether it will develop follow-up measures aimed at more permanent solutions.

Meanwhile, We the People really need to do something about our rogue Supreme Court…

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The Company Heritage Keeps…

Because I’ve been on the road, heading for a much-needed vacation (and hopefully, a brief hiatus from my daily contemplation of the various–and frankly terrifying– threats to my country and its Constitution), I’m taking the lazy way out this morning, and posting an eye-opening compendium of the contributors to Project 2025. These are the “think tanks” (note quotation marks) and other far-Right organizations that worked with Heritage to produce that document.

You can find the list here.

Some of these names will be chillingly familiar. I found others to be a mystery. Those I recognized, and a few unknown ones I was able to trace, are all members of a category we might dub “scary.” Or unAmerican–at least if one defines unAmerican as  rejection of the underlying philosophy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (especially but certainly not exclusively the First and Fourteenth Amendments.)

Click through, take a look at the list, and–as the anti-science folks like to say–do your own research.

I’ll be back to my usual hectoring and too-wordy routine tomorrow.

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The Utilitarian Argument For Religion

When my husband and I first married, we had spirited arguments about religion. (Bad pun intended.) Neither of us was religious, but my husband held particularly negative views of organized religion; I countered by equating religion with philosophy, and arguing that humans needed to have considered beliefs about the meanings of their lives, which either philosophy or religious doctrine could supply.

Over the years, I’ve come to agree with my husband.

Dismissing all religion is, of course, is manifestly unfair. I have several friends among the clergy, and friends and family who are religious in the sense that I once saw religious belief: as a guide to help wrestle with the moral issues that confront all thinking humans. They see the bible not as some inerrant word of God, but as a repository of tales intended to illuminate those moral quandaries and suggest moral/ethical solutions.

My friends are clearly not representative of what we might call public religiosity. 

I recently came across a report that illustrates–unfortunately–the sort of religion that increasingly motivates political theocrats like Indiana’s Beckwith and Banks.

A prominent and prolific theologian in the Church of the Nazarene will face a church trial later this month for advocating for LGBTQ affirmation at a time when the denomination is doubling down on its opposition to same-sex relations.

The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord, an ordained elder and a lifelong member of the denomination, is accused of teaching doctrines contrary to the Church of the Nazarene. He is also being charged with conduct unbecoming of a minister for his efforts to move the denomination to affirm LGBTQ people. The church holds that “the practice of same-sex sexual intimacy is contrary to God’s will.”

I find it fascinating that people who assert belief in the existence of an omnipotent and all-knowing deity have the hubris to believe that they are perfectly able to ascertain the will of that unknowable deity, and are confident that their God–who presumably created the people they hate– shares their prejudices.

This news item is only one of hundreds of similar examples, which brings me to the ongoing arguments about the utility of religion in society. Persuasion recently recapped those arguments, beginning with the position of those who assert that secularism is the source of our social ills. 

A growing cadre of intellectuals think the decline of religious belief has created a moral and spiritual vacuum, which has been filled with surrogate religions like wokeness and political extremism. They believe there’s a crisis of meaning in Western societies as people scramble to fill the “God-shaped holes” in their lives with other objects of worship. They argue that a renewed commitment to the Judeo-Christian tradition is the only way to restore a sense of social solidarity and shared purpose—and perhaps even save the West.

As the essay notes, these “new Theists” present a remarkably one-sided view of the history of religion, and especially Christianity. In contrast, it points to a straight line from Enlightenment humanism to the liberal rights and freedoms that the New Theists erroneously attribute to the influence of Christianity.

Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire challenged the authority of scripture, religious dogmatism, and the power of the Catholic Church. Baruch Spinoza rejected the idea of God as a transcendent supreme being, resisted supernatural beliefs, and made the case for religious pluralism and tolerance. In his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Spinoza said the state should hold sway over religion and argued for a rational interpretation of scripture. David Hume relentlessly challenged the moral and metaphysical claims of religion. While there were gradations of belief and unbelief among Enlightenment thinkers, a core aspect of Enlightenment thought was criticism of religion. And no wonder: the Enlightenment was in large part a response to centuries of religious oppression, dogma, and violence in Europe.

The essay is well worth reading in its entirety, but its basic thrust is that a Judeo-Christian “revival” would be highly unlikely to bring cohesion– “even Christians can’t agree on what it means to live in ‘one nation under God.'”

True, freedom and pluralism can be destabilizing. But as the essay notes, the proposed religious “solutions” are worse than the problem. Reversion to a phoney and contrived “Judeo-Christian tradition” wouldn’t be a step toward “some lost renaissance of cultural cohesion. It would be a return to familiar forms of tribalism, prejudice, and dogma.”

The pastors and politicians seeking to impose religious conformity are pursuing a fool’s errand–using religion (their own, of course) as a tool to achieve social consensus. (As the opening example illustrates, even theologians within the same denomination differ about “God’s will.”) 

At best, they are misreading history; at worst, they’re really advocating Christian Nationalism.  

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Banks Being Banks…

And you thought Micah Beckwith was the most “far out” candidate on Indiana’s statewide Republican ticket, just because he wants to ban books, criminalize abortion and put gay people back in. the closet?

Jim Banks says “Hold my beer.”

I had originally planned to post about reports that Banks approach is refusing to sign a bill funding Veterans programs if  unrelated culture war riders attached by the far Right are removed. Those provisions would eliminate diversity and inclusion programs and further restrict abortion nationwide. He has been quoted as saying that dropping them from a bill addressing practical matters important to veterans–a constituency Banks pretends to care about– will cause him to withhold his vote.

“If they go back to the Dem woke policies — if they fund those policies, I’ll vote against it,” Banks said. 

I wasn’t in any particular hurry to highlight this bit of “just normal for Banks” posturing. After all, with Jim Banks, threats like that just mean the sun rose in the East. He’s all culture war, all the time. Just the other day, he introduced a resolution to overturn a Biden administration rule requiring that foster parenting placements not be hostile to a child’s sexual orientation.

But then I saw this article from The New Republic.

Representative Jim Banks is running to represent Indiana in the Senate, but he categorically refuses to reject an armed rebellion against the federal government.

Banks was asked four times in person by a NOTUS reporter if he opposes a rebellion, and each time failed to give a clear answer. The fourth time, he even insulted the reporter.

I don’t take you seriously enough to answer your question,” Banks said on Tuesday, following three previous attempts on Monday when he instead chose to complain about Democrats. Why has a question with a clear easy answer become such an issue? It stems from a social media post from Banks on May 30, the same night Donald Trump was convicted in his hush-money trial.

Banks’s post on X (formerly Twitter) is pinned to the top of his profile, and has a picture of the Appeal to Heaven flag without any words. That flag today is attributed to Christian nationalism and the far right. It was also a symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement created by Trump’s followers following the 2020 election, and carried by rioters at the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has attracted criticism for flying the same flag outside his vacation home in New Jersey.

In one of his multiple evasive responses to the reporter’s questions, Banks referenced the upcoming election.

“We’re in unprecedented times, and November will be the result of regular people taking our country back,” Banks said to NOTUS. “And then we’ll have a reset, and then we’ll take back our government and our country from the elites and those who are trying to destroy it. So you can infer whatever you’d like from that post.”

I was previously unfamiliar with NOTUS, which bills itself as a “new Washington publication from the nonprofit, nonpartisan Allbritton Journalism Institute.” The original article, written by the NOTUS reporter who had conducted the interview, expanded on the conversation, noting that Banks had asked him whether he was a Christian, and whether he’d ever appealed to heaven. He followed that with a rant about the Democrats “weaponizing” the law against their political opponents. (I’m pretty sure that in GOP lingo, “weaponizing” means applying the rule of law to Republicans…)

Banks adamantly refused to answer the question “Do you oppose the concept of a second civil war?”

“That’s a crazy question,” Banks said, without answering it.

And when pressed again for his answer, he didn’t respond, disappearing into an elevator.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Banks did not respond to emails requesting the congressman’s opinion on armed rebellion against the U.S. government. On Wednesday, the spokesperson also did not respond to text messages from NOTUS, which were sent to his confirmed cell phone number, attempting again to see if Banks would like to offer clarity. The spokesperson did not answer phone calls from NOTUS ahead of this story’s publication, either.

It’s one thing to disagree with the “biblical perspectives” of people like Beckwith and Banks. It’s more important to recognize that they do not inhabit America’s current reality–or for that matter, any reality. They are thorough MAGA theocrats, convinced that they talk to God, and that God hates the same people they do.

I’m sure mental health professionals have a diagnosis for extreme theocratic zealotry. I don’t.

But I do know that they don’t belong in public office.

 
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Mike Leppert Nails It

One of the most frustrating aspects of today’s information environment is its fragmented nature. Many of us  depend upon widely respected national sources of news and even wisdom–the Heather Cox Richardsons and others who bring scholarship and acumen to in-depth discussion of the issues that confound us. Fewer of us know about or subscribe to blogs and newsletters produced by local folks–and that’s a shame, because many of them deserve to be more widely read. I’ve updated my blogroll to include a couple, including that of my friend Michael Leppert, whose weekly posts can be accessed here. I highly recommend them.

Mike is currently a lecturer at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, and an adjunct professor at IU’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He’s also a columnist and an author. (I was honored to write the introduction to his first book, Contrary to Popular Belief.) He has worked for the State of Indiana and as a lobbyist. Because he knows how things work, his blog is a deeply informed look at politics and the policy process.

A recent post, in my humble opinion, hit it out of the park.

Leppert was considering the abortion landscape after Dobbs, and reminding voters that–on reproductive rights– We the People have the right to the final word.

In his policy classes, Leppert says he’s focused on two primary ideas: “One, that governing is choosing; and two, there is no bigger asset or burden in the public policy process more powerful than time.”

The best contemporary policy example to use for understanding American democratic processes is the debate on women’s reproductive health freedom. Not just because of the Dobbs or Roe decisions, but because it is a policy that is truly a governing choice, unimpacted by infinite conditions beyond decision-makers’ control.

Unlike economic conditions or foreign policy, which are impacted by infinite conditions beyond anyone’s control, voters have the opportunity to determine the extent of abortion rights.

In some states, unlike Indiana, voters have access to referenda or initiatives. As he notes:

Eleven states are headed for referenda votes in November on constitutional proposals to create or protect abortion rights. Nine of them were initiated by voter petition. Four of those states already effectively have bans in place. Even Arkansas reached their threshold of signatures last week just before that state’s deadline.

In states where voters can vote, they either already are, or soon will. And because of the Dobbs decision, a vote on reproductive freedom is no longer a hypothetical discussion. There is data to drive the thinking of those clinging to rational thought on the matter.

He proceeds to outline some of that data, and it’s compelling.

In Texas, which banned abortion in 2021, the infant mortality rate rose 8%, and birth defects increased by 23% (in the rest of the U.S. they decreased by 3%)

As Leppert reminds us, Texas state elected officials chose this.

Then there’s Idaho, a state that is manic in its zeal to eradicate women’s freedoms. Its bans have created a crisis of care, driving obstetricians from the state. In February, it was reported that 22 of the state’s 44 counties don’t have access to any practicing obstetrician. More than 50 of them quit practicing there since the state passed its ban in August of 2022. It already ranked in the bottom five of all states for maternal mortality outcomes….

The catastrophic choices have only begun to be impacted by the all-powerful influence of time…

Because he is a resident of Indiana, Leppert concludes by referencing just how out of touch our theocratic GOP officials are with the sentiments of Indiana’s voters.

Indiana’s time has now begun too. Judicial delays now exhausted, the bad data is being gathered in a state already ranked 44th in infant mortality, and 47th in maternal mortality. Recent polling on the issue shows the most unsurprising results I’ve ever seen, as reported by the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

Petition driven ballot initiatives aren’t available here, though 78% of voters here want it. 72% of voters are less likely to support incumbents who voted to block a referendum.

Hoosiers can and should vote accordingly.

The state’s embattled attorney general, Todd Rokita, has been aggressively seeking access to patient medical records of those who have received abortion care. 95% of voters oppose this access. “Peace on earth” wouldn’t get 95%, and even if it did, Rokita would likely fight it.

If the Republican candidates for statewide office are successful in November, we can expect Indiana to emulate Texas and Idaho  (with censorship and unremitting attacks on education thrown in)… The GOP’s “Christian warrior” candidates are even more extreme than the legislators who passed Indiana’s ban.

As Leppert reminded his readers: Hoosier voters will choose…

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