Oral arguments today in an important LGBT case

[UPDATE: Amy Howe summarizes the oral arguments heard today.]

The US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on three cases brought by people who claim that the discrimination that they suffered in employment was due to them being either gay or transgender and that this is a violation of Title VII, the federal law that protects people from employment discrimination. The catch is that this statute does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity in its protected classes, listing only race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Thus people have to appeal to state laws and these vary across the country. It should come as no surprise that it is the traditionally Republican states who have not legislated any protections. If you happen to live in one of those states, you are out of luck.
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The tortured history of the US-Kurd relationship

The decision by Donald Trump to essentially wash his hands of the region that spans the Syria-Turkey border and is claimed by them as part of their proposed homeland has created a firestorm of protest from the political-military establishment and even from Republicans who up until now have been willing to support Trump in everything he has done, however outrageous. After a phone call with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (who views the Kurds as terrorists), Trump reportedly decided to remove the 50-100 US special forces in the region. There have been strenuous White House denials that that he gave the Turks the green light to enter the region and go after the Kurds.
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Is trolling public displays of religion a good idea?

The Satanic Temple and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Or Pastafarians for short) are examples of non-religious groups adopting religious symbolism in order to highlight the importance of separation of church and state by showing that if you allow one religion into the public sphere, then you have to allow every religion, even parody ones. The Satanic Temple has been particularly effective in rolling back attempts to plant Ten Commandments and other monuments on public land, by demanding that their own statue of Baphomet be placed as well, because of the requirement that government entities be neutral with regard to religions
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The people who benefit most from Harvard’s admissions policies

A federal judge ruled this week that the admissions policy of Harvard University is constitutional.

In a closely watched lawsuit that had raised fears about the future of affirmative action, a group called Students for Fair Admissions accused the Ivy League college of deliberately — and illegally — holding down the number of Asian Americans accepted in order to preserve a certain racial balance on campus.

U.S. District Judge Allison D. Burroughs, however, ruled that Harvard’s admissions process is “not perfect” but passes constitutional muster. She said there is “no evidence of any racial animus whatsoever” and no evidence that any admission decision was “negatively affected by Asian American identity.”

“Race conscious admissions will always penalize to some extent the groups that are not being advantaged by the process,” Burroughs wrote, “but this is justified by the compelling interest in diversity and all the benefits that flow from a diverse college population.”

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Sexual abuse in Orthodox Jewish institutions

Recently came news that the Roman Catholic diocese of Rochester, NY became the 20th US diocese to file for bankruptcy. The reason is of course because of the large number of lawsuits that the church has faced because of the sexual abuse by priests and the cover-ups by the church. The bishops knew about the activities of the priests but instead of taking stern action and reporting them to the secular authorities, they moved the priests around to hide the crimes. It is likely that other dioceses in the state will be forced to follow because of a new state law called the Child Victims Act, “which temporarily set aside the usual statute of limitations for lawsuits to give victims of childhood sexual abuse a year to pursue even decades-old claims” that enabled victims to bring their complaints to court.
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Advice for people if they are questioned by the police

Two lawyers who call themselves the Pot Brothers At Law give advice on what you should do if you are in the marijuana business and get questioned by the police. Their advice is applicable to almost any police questioning situation actually, not just those that are pot-related. (Language advisory)

I believe that the reasoning behind their advice is that when people talk, they tend to say things that are incorrect or mistaken and then they can get charged with lying to law enforcement and that charge can be used to put pressure on them to admit to other things.

(Via Rob Beschizza)

The Libet free will experiment revisited

I have long been interested in the question of free will and back in 2010 even wrote a 16-part series (!) looking into what was known about it. Many people are Cartesian dualists where they view the brain and mind as distinct, the former being a physical organ while the latter is an immaterial entity, dubbed the ‘Ghost in the Machine’ by Gilbert Ryle, that controls the cognitive processes of the former, though how that actually happens has not been made clear.
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The future of the religion clauses in the current Supreme Court

The First Amendment to the US constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The clause pertaining to religion states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” which means that there are two parts, what have come to be known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. It is the Establishment Clause that has come under stress recently as religious zealots in the US, convinced that this is a Christian country, seek to make that manifest by having prayers at government functions, putting up Ten Commandments monuments in public spaces, putting mottoes like ‘In God We Trust’ on currency and elsewhere, and placing nativity scenes at Christmas time.

The US Supreme Court’s responses to the cases have been muddled, to put it frankly. They seem to struggle to find ways to accommodate at least some religious invasion of the public sphere, even if it leads to convoluted reasoning, possibly out of a sense that outright prohibition might cause too much of a furor.
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Federal appeals court sides with common sense and decency and against Trump

You may recall my earlier post with a video of a Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian trying to defend the awful conditions that detained migrant children were being kept in (such as being denied soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, showers, beds, and cloth blankets in very cold rooms with the lights permanently on) to an openly incredulous panel of three justices in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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We need a nationwide teach-in on the First Amendment

The Hamptons is a very upscale region in New York state where the very wealthy live. Apparently residents who are supporters of Donald Trump are having to keep their allegiance a secret because their neighbors hate him.

President Trump’s Hamptons supporters have gone underground.

“We are all in the closet,” said a boutique owner in Southampton who fears reprisals from his customers — most of them moneyed Democrats — if he speaks openly about his allegiance to Trump. “It’s like you have this disease and people want to run away from you.”

A builder based in Westhampton worried that his customers would boycott his services if he reveals his support of the president. “People have really strong opinions here and if you go around wearing a MAGA hat, you really need to fear physical violence,” he said, adding the anti-Trump aggression comes mostly from summer residents.

“They’re all Democrats, so for us it’s a matter of survival,” said an art consultant who works in Sag Harbor. “We live in the land of the First Amendment, but if you want to stay in business out here, you have to keep your opinions to yourself. We are hitting a very dark and strange place as a country.”

What will it take people to realize that the First Amendment only guarantees that the government “shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech”? In other words, the government cannot censor your speech (except under very limited conditions) and you are free to say that you adore Trump and to wear as many MAGA hats as you like, if that floats your boat. The First Amendment does not require other people to like you or approve of what you say or not criticize you or support your business.