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The Last Harrah for Judicial Nominees before Lawmakers Vacation

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

This week is the last week before our legislators take their vacations until September.   Once again, President Obama’s judicial nominees will be left hanging without even receiving a vote. Republicans have taken an unprecedented approach to blocking President Obama’s judicial nominees.  This week, Republicans vow to stand in the way of Judge Robert Bacharach, President Obama’s nominee to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.  This is despite the fact that Judge Bacharach received bi-partisan support and even acclaim from conservative court watchers.


Instead of filling the vacancy and confirming Judge Bacharach, legislators will go home to their home districts until sometime in September. So nomination for a two year old vacancy on the court, Republicans choose instead to engage in obstructionism.


On average, President Obama’s judicial nominees have waited over 125 to be confirmed; this is  four times longer than President Bush’s nominees. Compared to other presidents,  only 156 of President Obama’s circuit and district court nominees have been confirmed as compared to 197 for President Bush  and 193 under President Clinton.


To date, 35 of President Obama’s district court judicial nominees have been opposed on the floor compared with only 5 of President Bush in his entire 8 year term.  And adding insult to injury, the Senate has yet to vote on a single circuit court judicial nominee this year. Judge Bacharach would be the first. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for him.


The real impact is on the persons or litigants who appear before federal courts.   It affects both civil and criminal courts.  There is a cost associated without having enough judges to try cases. In 2010, for example, it cost $1.4 billion to detain and house inmates awaiting their trial, due to insufficient amount of judges. And in civil case, it could take over 2 years for a civil trial to start.  None of this matters to Republicans.  They much prefer to be obstructionists.  There are currently 75 judicial vacancies.  But judges need not apply.  They won’t be confirmed anyway.

PA Voter ID Law Goes On Trial

Thursday, July 26th, 2012
Pres. Johnson signing the Voter Rights Act

Voter Rights Act of 1964 Signing

Pennsylvania’s voter ID law went on trial on Wednesday, July 25 to challenge the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.  Pennsylvania signed a stipulation before the trial began agreeing that no voter fraud exists in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the country to justify the need for photo ID laws.  Nonetheless, Pennsylvania is standing its ground on the need for voter ID.


The only fraud being committed is not voter fraud but fraud on the American people by the GOP.  One Pennsylvania state law maker, Mike Turzai,  broke ground when he also admitted the law is needed to give Mitt Romney the win in November.  While Republicans say the need for voter ID is only common sense. The trial and issue is whether the laws are constitutional and not common sense.  Even if the laws were based on common sense, they would still fail.  It makes no common sense for them.


The U.S. constitution states that the right to vote shall not be denied due to race or gender. And yet, these new voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and other states do exactly disenfranchise black, Hispanic and women voters, particularly those living in urban areas.  Three named plaintiffs have different  experiences with the same result which will disenfranchise them under the new voter ID law. One plaintiff is unable to obtain her birth certificate in Georgia.   Georgia has no record of Wiola Lee who was born 60 years ago.


The most known plaintiff is Vivian Applewhite, 93 who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King and has been voting in every election ever since she was able to vote.  After fighting for the right to vote in 1960, she may be  now unable to vote again this year. She is not able to get the birth certificate for her name since she was adopted early in life.  The last name issue is one that is particularly an issue with women who have recently divorced or married and need   ID.  Then there’s Anna Gomez, 63, who came to the U.S. at an early age and does not seem able to get her birth certificate from Puerto Rico.  All of these Pennsylvanian residents have voted regularly in elections but will be denied the right to vote, if the law is upheld. Although my own mother did not live in Pennsylvania.  She for many years was also unable to obtain her birth certificate from a small rural town in North Carolina where she was born.  It is not as uncommon as some people think.


It is so disheartening and ironic that it is easier to legally buy assault rifles and injure 70 persons than it is to vote in these voter ID states. It was easier for the suspect in the Aurora shootings to buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition along with the assault rifle than it may have been for him to vote, if he lived in Pennsylvania. And it’s definitely easier to fly than to vote  in Pennsylvania.  Flying on an airplane isn’t even covered by the U.S. constitution.  It’s a privilege and not a right like voting.   Republicans own data has never shown a need for voter ID laws. That didn’t stop over half of the states from enacting voter ID laws with 14 states having the most  strictest forms.


Today’s Philadelphia newspaper reported that statistics show that over 1.5 million people or 20% of Pennsylvania voters may not be able to vote in November due to the new voter ID laws.  That’s a staggering amount of voters.  And with their being no proven reason for the ID, it seems the court should have an easy time deciding the case.  But nothing has been easy this year when it comes to fighting these oppressive and suppressive laws.  No matter which way the judge decides, the case will probably head to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  And the Department of Justice still has an investigation into Pennsylvania voter ID laws on federal grounds.


The trial is expected to last until Monday. The judge is expected to rule by August 13.  As we approach 100 days before the election, we still don’t have the answers as to who will be able to vote. And that’s the biggest fraud. Updates will be provided as the trial continues.



Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post and the Women’s Media Center.

Why the NRA and Gun Rights Advocates Are Wrong

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

The second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.  There are 27 amendments to the U.S. constitution.  The first ten are known as the Bill of Rights.  Proponents of the second amendment believe there should not be any restrictions on the right to bear arms.  They believe the U.S. Constitution gives them an absolute right to bear arms.   The only thing wrong with their thinking is there are restrictions and limits on most of the amendments to the Constitution.

The first amendment is freedom of speech.  While freedom of speech is protected, there is not an unrestricted freedom to all speech. Libel and slander are not constitutionally protected. Other forms of speech are not protected.   The first amendment also covers freedom of the press. Yet there are occasions where a journalist is asked by a court to reveal his or her sources or be held in contempt.  That hardly seems like freedom of the press.  The 4th amendment protects against   unreasonable search and seizures. The Supreme Court has   over the years narrowly defined the term “unreasonable.”   Wiretaps and other forms of intrusion not considered at the time of the Bill of Rights are now deemed admissible. The eighth amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishment.  Yet, we still have the cruelest punishment of all—the death penalty.


The fifteenth   and   the nineteenth amendment guaranteed the right to vote to African American men and women respectively.  Those amendments stated the right to vote shall not be denied on account of race or gender.  In 2012, over half of the states passed laws which by statistics will disenfranchise blacks and in some cases, women who change their names.  Many of the laws are being challenged in state and federal court.


Throughout our history, the freedoms accorded in the U.S. constitution through the amendments have never been absolute.  Yet, somehow gun owners and proponents of the second amendment believe there should be an unrestricted use of the right to bear arms.  If a gun is made, gun owners believe they are guaranteed and entitled under the constitution to buy it. And Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson says restricting who can purchase a gun including the mentally ill, will restrict the freedom of the second amendment.   Somehow proponents of the second amendment fail to see or recognize that other amendments to the constitution, particularly the first, fourth and eighth have some limits.


Gun violence statistics, including accidents and homicides show the need for gun control.  When we legally allow persons to buy weapons that are used to kill in war, something is wrong.  Yet, second amendment proponents argue they need guns for protection.  And to deny them guns will deny them protection. What was the Aurora killer protecting against?


I don’t have the answers or the solution.   I think the gun proponents believe that the innocent lives taken in mass killings and other innocent taking of life are just the price for being able to have unrestricted right to guns  by the second amendment. The price we pay is too high.  At a minimum, guns like the one used to kill and injure over 70 persons in Aurora should be banned. But no one’s going to be brave enough to speak out against the NRA—at least not any politician.


Without grass roots organizations advocating for gun law change and politicians willing to risk their necks to propose gun law change, there will be no change.  Sadly, I don’t think change will come until something so large for even the gun proponents to ignore occurs—perhaps not even then.  Senator Dianne Feinstein, an outspoken gun control advocate says “There has been no action because there is no outrage out there, people haven’t rallied forward.” Feinstein was one of the original co-sponsors of the assault weapons ban that expired under Pres. Bush.


Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post.



Is the NRA the Osama bin Laden of US Gun Terrorism?

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

The Aurora, Colorado movie killings bring up once again the second amendment and right to bear arms issue. The first 10 amendments in the US Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, are like the 10 Commandments in the Bible.  They are etched in stone in our history just like the 10 commandments in the Bible. And the 2nd amendment protects the right to bear arms.

The National Rifle Association (“NRA”) is the ultimate defender of the 2nd amendment since their organization’s inception in 1871. The NRA is also a powerful political entity whose gun industry members are worth more than $60 billion a year.  Their political contributions help to lobby against any gun control in this country.  And persons like the Aurora killer are legally allowed to buy assault weapons, with the NRA’s blessing.  Assault weapons can kill multiple persons at a time and terrorize a nation.

A recent Al Jazeera article printed some interesting facts on the background of guns in the US:

  • The US gun industry is estimated to be worth more than $60 billion a year
  • There are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in the country, which has a population of 311 million
  • There are at least 88 guns per 100 residents in the US, making it first in the world in gun ownership per capita
  • By contrast, Serbia, which is second on that list, has 58 guns per 100 people
  • 2/3 of all murders in the US are committed with firearms
  • In 2010, that amounted to 8,775 out of nearly 13,000 murders
  • 13 people were killed in the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999
  • 10 people were killed by DC Beltway Sniper in 2002
  • 6 school girls were killed in Pennsylvania Amish country in 2006
  • 32 people were killed by a student at Virginia Tech University in 2007
  • 6 people were killed and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was wounded in  2011
  • 3 students at Ohio’s Chardon High School were killed in March 2012

Another comparison of guns in the US and in the world in one year found:

Sales of guns are on the rise as if buying a gun is the solution to our problems.

Last year’s Arizona killings and wounding of Gabrielle Giffords   failed to bring  about any meaningful dialogue to the gun issue.  The recent Trayvon Martin killing has also done little to spark a real debate on guns. And I suspect the Aurora, Colorado movie killings and shootings will also not have a real impact on debate. And the real reason is that politicians are not willing to address the issue. The issue of gun dialogue is like the racial conversation in this country. I guess you could say it’s complicated.   Over half of the states with Stand Your Ground laws make it almost easy to kill—by asserting a fear of someone taking your life.


The powerful NRA and its contributions to politicians is the main reason that guns are not going away in this country; Democrats don’t want to address the issue and most Republicans are beholden to the NRA—just like the recent vote against Health Care Act in Congress showed.  And neither party will address it in an election year. And since we have elections every two years, it’s difficult to see when is a good time to bring up the topic.  If the issues are to be addressed, it will have to be a grass roots effort.


We’re able to control foreign   terrorist bomb attacks better in the US than controlling gun laws because the NRA has nothing to do with terrorist bomb attacks.  We cannot control domestic terrorist attacks involving assault weapons and guns because the NRA will not allow it. And guns killing people in mass attacks are an act of terrorism.  Emotionally unstable people are not the problem—guns are the problem.  And owning more guns is not the solution.

Republicans are sleeping with the NRA with their political contributions and  many Democrats are hiding in the closet from them. And with those political attitudes, I don’t see how gun laws will change in this country.  Yet, somehow we need to take our country back from the NRA. The NRA, just like Osama bin Laden once did, is helping to hold us hostage to terrorism.  And as long as they hold us hostage, there will be more gun terrorism in our midst.


Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics.  As a  legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including  the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates,  RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others.  She also writes for the Huffington Post.


Women Hold the Key in Election 2012

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Women have come a long way since the early days of women’s suffrage. On July 19, 1848 a controversial resolution seeking the vote for women was passed at the first women’s rights convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanon also called for the right to exercise free speech. The move was necessary because public speaking was considered an unwomanly act. Thomas Jefferson had declared it would result in a “depravation of morals.” Ironically, that first convention was presided over by a man – James Mott, husband to suffragist Lucretia. It was not until 1920 that women earned the right to vote.

Just last month in 2012, legislators in Michigan banned a colleague from speaking on the floor. The group panicked when Representative Lisa Brown used the word “vagina” during a debate on reproductive health care. Republican Ann Richards once said Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did—only backwards and in high heels.

While some men may still think that women should not be heard or heard using certain words, this year is the real year of the woman. Women hold the keys to the 2012 election. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has said that due to many issues focusing on woman and children that women hold the key. And the battle grounds states are where it matters when it comes to women. Since the 1980’s women have been voting more than men. In 2008 10 million more women showed up at the polls than men. And in battleground states where women outvote men in the hundreds of thousands, women’s votes are crucial. The only battleground state where women don’t outvote men is in Nevada. And even there, it’s not by much that men lead women.

In Pennsylvania, women outvoted men in 2008 by 400,000. In Ohio, women outvoted men by 275,000. In North Carolina, the figures are women over men by 358,000. Currently, Romney is winning when it comes to white men. But women hold the key to this election. With the Republicans war on women from Planned Parenthood, paycheck fairness for women to calling Georgetown student Sandra Fluke a slut, the Republicans are not trying to win favor with women.

And November, 2012 will show the power of women regardless of the outcome. It doesn’t look good when it comes to the GOP.

Why Joe Paterno’s Statue Must Come Down

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

The trial of Jerry Sandusky has been concluded. Louis Freeh’s investigative report has been written. And still the statue of Joe Paterno still stands on Penn State’s campus. And this is but one example that Penn State is still in denial of Papa Joe Paterno’s wrongdoing and involvement in the Sandusky sex abuse scandal. How do you keep a statue of a man that was fired for aiding and abetting a known—at least to him, child sex abuser? There should be no question that the statute should be removed. It should have been removed shortly after Paterno’s firing.

A statue honors the legacy of a hero—someone who set an outstanding example. Paterno does not fit that category. He is a disgraced and fallen coach. All the years of Paterno’s coaching rests on the lives of the young boys that Sandusky raped. There is no reason to honor greed and corruption. A college cannot honor someone who brings dishonor upon them in the most vile way.

The statue must be removed to teach the students of Penn State that a wrong of this magnitude should not be honored in any way. Students attend college to learn. And Penn State is in a position to teach its students and others a valuable lesson in life. The good that you do is destroyed by the despicable acts to protect a child sex predator.

While some may say that Sandusky is the criminal and he has been found guilty. Paterno knowingly allowed his friend, colleague and fellow coach to roam free and commit egregious sex acts on multiple child victims over a ten year period. He is as guilty as Sandusky. Sandusky is a hopeless pedophile. Paterno was his power broker.

Ironically, Paterno protected and shielded Sandusky to prevent harm to Penn state’s reputation. In the end, Paterno’s actions brought far more harm than just to Penn state’s reputation and football profits. He helped to destroy the lives of countless boys, now young men. In a criminal setting, the person who commits the murder is as guilty as the one knowingly waiting in the get- away car. Both can get a life sentence.

There is no honor in Paterno’s actions. There is only shame. And there are no statues given to honor disgrace and shame.

Post Script: Penn State removed Joe Paterno’s statue on July 22, 2012. On July 23, 2012 the NCAA will release their sanctions against Penn State.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and founder of LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. As a legal and political commentator she has appeared in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She also writes for the Huffington Post.