Presidential Q-and-A

Although I did not get to ask a question at today’s White House East Room event in which President Obama gave remarks about the BP oil spill and took questions from reporters — mainly about the oil spill — here’s the question I was prepared to ask were I given the opportunity:

Thank you, Mr. President. My question is about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise amendment that faces House and Senate votes as early as this afternoon. Adm. Mullen said yesterday of the conditions in the amendment, “That trigger is to certify whether we should move ahead with that change.”

Earlier, and repeatedly, however, Sec. Gates said of the study, “This is not a question of if, but how.”

Which is it, Mr. President, and is your understanding of the compromise that the certification is discretionary? And, if so, why is that discretion necessary if the study truly is only looking into how to implement repeal?

But, I did not get to ask my question, so, it remains unanswered.

Here is the background, from my two reports at Metro Weekly on Wednesday: “Discretion Required,” about the impact of the amendment, and “Digging Into the Details,” which looks at the Senate vote count and features my interviews with Reps. Murphy and Frank on the House side.

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Where in the World Is Law Dork?

About 9:30 p.m. Monday night, outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

About 9:30 p.m. Monday night, two people stand looking at the White House from the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes, I have been a bad Law Dork.

But, I’ve been writing plenty, at Metro Weekly, where I had been freelancing, then was working part-time, and — finally — earlier this year started working full-time.

On Monday, for example, I began with “DADT Talks at White House and on Hill,” covering the meetings regarding a possible “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy repeal compromise. Then, I followed up with the brief “Pushing Forward on DADT Repeal Compromise,” addressing a letter sent to the White House from the leading trio of pro-repeal lawmakers. Finally, I ended the day with “White House Signals Support,” which covered the Administration’s endorsement of the repeal compromise and several LGBT groups’ reactions to that support.

Unfortunately, days like that have left me with little time to devote to Law Dork.

I do, however, ask that you continue to check out my work, which is published nearly daily (if not multiple times a day, sch as Monday) at MetroWeekly.com and, if you live in the D.C. area, each Thursday in print. Also, if you’re not following me on Twitter and you want to keep up with me, you should be following me. Finally, I will update here as I find reasons (and time!) to do so, which is primarily when non-LGBT topics or Ohio-centric issues come to the fore.

If you have any other ideas of how I can use this space — I’m thinking about a weekly photo journal update, perhaps — please leave the idea in the comments section.

Thanks to everyone who has been so truly supportive of me as I spent the past 15 months feeling my way out and about back in the blogosphere, then on Twitter and, eventually, to D.C. It’s been — and will doubtless continue to be — quite a ride, so please do keep up!

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Brunner: ‘We were outspent . . . on broadcast media 100% to 0.’

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner: Starting dominoes or playing chicken? (Photo c/o The Plain Dealer.)

Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner: Starting dominoes or playing chicken? (Photo c/o The Plain Dealer.)

Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner just sent out her thank-you message to her email list from her unsuccessful U.S. Senate primary against Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, now Ohio Democrats’ nominee to face Rob Portman in the fall.

She’s not happy. And, progressive as ever.

With no mention of Lee.

In her words:

Dear [name],

Thank you for your amazing support of my race for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Ohio.

Our campaign broadened the progressive base in Ohio. We fought to make people matter more than money. We were outflanked in money, endorsements and establishment pushback.

With the support of a broad and diverse group of activists and supporters like you who helped us get our message to other Ohioans, we pulled off a campaign that has amazed many.

We were outspent 4 to 1 overall and on broadcast media 100% to 0. We can take what we learned and help new candidates of all races, nationalities, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and age become part of our government, so that our government looks and thinks more like us. Please keep up the fight. You can be certain I will.

Thank you again for all you have done.

Sincerely,

[signed]
Jennifer Brunner

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Howard Dean, Opposed to Nat’l Party Org Primary Endorsements

Former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, speaking in Lafayette Park in support of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal on Sunday.

Former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean, speaking in Lafayette Park in support of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal on Sunday.

I asked Howard Dean — former chair of the Democratic National Committee — about his views on party primary endorsements on Sunday. I decided to hold off on publishing Dean’s response until after tonight’s races because: (1) I don’t think it would have made a difference in any of the party primary races at this point and (2) I think it is an important question that Democrats should look at now and consider before the next election.

The take-away, and key for me is when he opposed party primary endorsements from the national party because “there has to be some place where everybody who’s a Democrat can come and feel like they’re being treated fairly.”

Here is Dean’s response, in full on primary endorsements by the national party organizations:

The DSCC and the DCCC always used to do that when I was running the DNC. I never approved of it, and we never did it. In fact, I actually had something put in the bylaws that said no officer of the DNC could write a check or make an endorsement in a primary.

I think there has to be some place where everybody who’s a Democrat can come and feel like they’re being treated fairly, and I always thought that should be the DNC. So, that’s why I sort-of have this thing that I — there are a few primaries that I’ve gotten into, but very few. Actually, the only two I can think of are because the person running was the former chair of my campaign in the state. And, I, they stood up for me when times were tough, and I thought I owed it to them to stand up for them.

But otherwise, I try to stay out of primaries, still, because of the way I looked at it as, when I was chair of the DNC. And I don’t think the DS[CC] and DCCC should get into primaries either. But, they do, so they do. And DFA does, so, that’s fine.

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Police at Lafayette Park: ‘Park’s Closed, Everyone Back Up!’

Today’s Get Equal protest in front of the White House featured aggressive park police, announcing that not only was Pennsylvania Avenue closed (as was done at last month’s protest) — but that the “Park’s closed” as well. A reporter on the video below says that the reporters and public were pushed back to the statue of President Andrew Jackson in the middle of Lafayette Park.

The six arrested are being held overnight and are to appear at D.C. Superior Court at 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to Get Equal. I have an email in to the White House asking who made the decision to close the Park.

[UPDATE: Here's my report at Metro Weekly on the non-response from the White House and the contradictory responses from the Park Police and Secret Service about why this happened.]

Popularity: 26% [?]

The Hecklers’ Veto

Tonight, people associated with GetEqual directly heckled the sitting President, who is generally supportive of LGBT equality but is not being clear enough about the timeline — in this case, the timeline for repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy — for many activists.

I’m honestly not sure what I think about tonight, but I do think this is different from last month’s actions.

I actually think it might have been smarter, politically, for the group than the previous GetEqual-related actions. Although disrespectful to President Obama, it was certainly not of the “arrest risk” level of the other actions. That’s a big difference from the first day of actions. This was a brief, targeted action that, in the larger scheme of things, was minimally disruptive.

Also, and more importantly, this was a presidential event with many people in attendance, so there is mainstream press being forced to write about this. The pool report, circulating at this time, talks about the disruption in pain-staking (for the White House) detail.

The downside of this action is that Sen. Boxer had her event, I think unfairly, targeted and tarnished. I’m not quite sure of the advantage gained by putting a damper on a potentially vulnerable, pro-LGBT elected official’s fundraising event.

Also, this was directly aimed at Obama, as opposed to more generally at the White House or Congress. While that could — and likely is — seen as a positive for GetEqual’s supporters, I’m not sure Obama wants DADT repeal any more after tonight. Maybe he will do more, and maybe that’s enough to call this a success, but I can’t imagine that it made him more eager personally to support LGBT equality. I’m not sure about that, but I still think that’s the downside in taking on the President in this way.

Another potential downside is that this wasn’t an LGBT event. This is the first test of how GetEqual’s message translates outside of the LGBT community — both in the progressive community generally and across the nation. So, while watching LGBT coverage of this event will be important, I’m going to pay close attention to non-LGBT media’s coverage of tonight’s action.

Finally, there is the downside that comes along with the hecklers’ veto. Tonight’s hecklers chose — with no consultation and with no accountability — to take action of their own behalf that will, in many forms, be reflected on many folks seeking an end to DADT and advancement of other LGBT equality legislation. That is not their fault, and it is not something for which they should be blamed. But, it will happen, and others who are ambivalent about, supportive of or oppose their actions will be explaining this action to others.

Maybe that’s fine. Maybe the answer is simply, “It wasn’t me.” Perhaps the response is, “Do you disagree that LGBT people deserve full equality now?”

These are difficult issues in a righteous struggle. Tonight, I think, was a slightly different animal than last month’s actions and worthy of examination on its own merits.

Popularity: 22% [?]

‘One Seat in the Press Section’

“We will be able to accommodate one seat in the press section for Mr. Geidner.”

Truly, few emails have made me more happy than this one, letting me know that I have a seat in the U.S. Supreme Court’s press section “for the oral argument on Monday, April 19 at 10 a.m. and Wednesday, April 28 at 10 a.m.”

The building that houses the Supreme Court of the United States, located at One First Street, N.E., in Washington, D.C.

The building that houses the Supreme Court of the United States, located at One First Street, N.E., in Washington, D.C.

The cases are Christian Legal Society v. Martinez and Doe #1 v. Reed. This, to me, is about as exciting an opportunity as I could have imagined when moving back to D.C. nearly six months ago. In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to write for The Atlantic Politics Channel and Metro Weekly, which has led to a job at MW as the senior political writer. In that role, I’ve covered Congress, the White House, the Pentagon and, now, will be covering the Supreme Court.

The first argument has particular meaning for me, as this debate, about whether a student organization that refuses to abide by a school’s nondiscrimination policy — here, CLS — can be denied university funds, is one in which I was heavily engaged during my time as a law student at OSU. The question in the case comes down to whether personal religious views can be imposed on a public institution and trump generally applicable public funding decisions, a question the court has answered in the negative on repeated occasions.

The case raises a lot of interesting questions, depending on the angle from which you come at the case — CLS and its lawyers argue that this is a religious freedom and associational freedom case. I’m going to be reading the many amicus briefs submitted in the case over the coming days, so I’ll have more on the specifics of all that soon. What already is clear, though, is that it will be intriguing to watch how the justices address the case.

The second argument, I think, has a growing meaning in the evolving dialogue on LGBT equality — or at least the opposition to it. As with the CLS case, those opposed to LGBT equality are increasingly painting themselves as themselves being the group that is subject to animus. They, not the LGBT people, are the “victim” in this framing. The Washington case involves the disclosure of the names and identifying information of those people who signed the petition to overturn Washington state’s domestic partnership law that became Referendum 71.

The case asks whether the Court will hold that disclosure requirements — can the public see who signed a petition to put a referendum on the ballot? — should be curtailed because of fear that those who signed such a petition will be subject to retaliation or other intimidation. The broad issue — the intimidation question — already has arisen twice in recent months at the Court, when the Court rejected the attempt to allow a live-streaming of the Proposition 8 trial to other courtrooms and in Justice Thomas’s opinion in Citizens United.

Incidentally, that second argument will fall, to the day, six months after my first D.C. coverage, the signing of the hate crimes law a couples days after I moved back.

Of personal interest and excitement to me, these two arguments, looking at the intersection of LGBT equality and various First Amendment freedoms, fall into that same general area of the law as the first Supreme Court oral argument that I attended, Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, argued 10 years ago this month, on April 26, 2000.

Yes, this Law Dork is incredibly excited and proud to be covering the Supreme Court for Metro Weekly.

Popularity: 20% [?]

The Dawn at Stevens’ Sunset?

Johnsen

Johnsen

Today was a day for celebrating the service of Justice John Paul Stevens.

Today was a day for considering the impact of Stevens’ work on American law.

Today was a day for contemplating who could enter the Court in the fall and take his vote, if not his place.

Today was not a day for questioning whether the President would have the wherewithal to make his constitutional vision a part of America.

And yet, with the end-of-the-day announcement that Dawn Johnsen, the president’s nominee to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, was withdrawing her name from consideration because of Senate inaction, that question — among legal thinkers on the left and the right — has been pushed into our focus as this week draws to a close.

Do not misinterpret my concern. I have argued — and still believe — that a convincing case could be made that a recess appointment is inappropriate for the head of the Office of Legal Counsel, particularly when, as Johnsen noted in her statement today, a goal that she brought with her to the nomination was the depoliticization of the OLC.

My specific concern is not only that she has withdrawn, although that fact upsets me greatly. The very serious concern I am discussing here is an admittedly more political one — that the White House allowed this to happen today.

Dawn Johnsen’s principled stand against executive overreaching was what led presidential power critics like Glenn Greenwald to be thrilled with her nomination.

There is no such thing as take-out-the-trash day for legal-political blogger-critics. The OLC job is out of the way enough that John Yoo is still teaching and Jay Bybee was able to leave the executive and enter the judiciary without incident, despite the questionable — if not actionable — activities in which they engaged while working there. Among those people for whom this position matters, though, there was no real benefit to be gained by making this move today.

There are, however, two important and related but distinct disadvantages.

For the administration, on this day, to allow for the Johnsen news to disempower liberal legal thinkers and advocates is an incalculably short-sighted political misstep. It is right at this very moment when the administration needs these people most. To allow for Johnsen’s nomination to come to an end today can only be offset with the news of a Supreme Court nominee likely to gain as much praise on the legal left as did Johnsen. (The only sure bets there would be Pam Karlan or Goodwin Liu, in my view.)

What’s more, this has empowered the very people on the legal right who the administration has the least interest in seeing empowered today. There is nothing to be gained by having the opponents of Dawn Johnsen’s nomination coming down off the ego and power of victory right as they are gearing up to come at Obama’s nominee — regardless of who it is — with all their might.

As everyone at this point is well aware, I have significantly more trust in the Obama administration’s legal strategies and political tactics thus far than have many others. I have criticisms, but I also believe that much of their work has been done with a keen eye both to the legal and political realities of the system in which they find themselves.

This afternoon’s announcement about Dawn Johnsen, however, gives me pause just as the administration is asking liberals — and the nation — to trust Obama’s judgment the most, as he selects his second lifetime-tenured nominee for the high court.

Popularity: 20% [?]

Obama and Stevens United . . . Against Citizens United

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens sits for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington. (Photo from AP/Charles Dharapak.)

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens sits for a new group photograph, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at the Supreme Court in Washington. (Photo from AP/Charles Dharapak.)

One of the ten-ton elephants or bombshells or other colorful journalistic euphemisms awaiting us in the SCOTUS vacancy weeks ahead following the announcement today that Justice John Paul Stevens will retire is Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Judging by his words today, the unpopular decision may be a key part of President Obama’s summer political strategy.

Earlier this spring, when Justice Stevens took significant time to read from his blistering dissent in Citizens United, speculation ensued about whether Stevens was reaching the end of his time on the high court. In part, he wrote:

The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution.

. . . .

In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules. The majority’s rejection of this principle “elevate[s] corporations to a level of deference which has not been seen at least since the days when substantive due process was regularly used to invalidate regulatory legislation thought to unfairly impinge upon established economic interests.” Bellotti , 435 U. S., at 817, n. 13 (White, J., dissenting). At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

Then, shortly thereafter, in President Obama’s State of the Union address, Obama registered his opposition to the decision — directly to several of the justices in attendance. As the NYT’s Linda Greenhouse wrote:

Mr. Obama’s words were sharp, echoing his earlier criticism of the court’s decision last week in the Citizens United case to strike down the limits that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law placed on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. The decision would “open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections,” Mr. Obama said, adding that “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests.” He urged Congress to “pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”

Then, there was Justice Alito’s response at the speech and Chief Justice Roberts’s response following the speech.

With Stevens due to retire, the President shot one more arrow directly at the Citizens United opinion, saying this afternoon of his pick to replace Stevens:

It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

So, that’s a key qualification now.

ALSO:

  • For my take on the contributions that Justice Stevens made to LGBT equality while on the Court, here’s my article at Metro Weekly.
  • Ari Shapiro — in his first solo day covering the White House for NPR — takes on the vacancy and what it means for Obama.
  • Lyle Denniston at SCOTUSblog gets in his first take.
  • The Washington Post talks to Jonathan H. Adler, Erwin Chemerinsky and Walter Dellinger about how Obama should make his pick.

Popularity: 22% [?]

Oh, What a Glee-ful Morning

The First Family, along with the Easter Bunny, descend the steps of the White House to joing the Egg Roll taking place on the South Lawn on Monday.

The First Family, along with the Easter Bunny, descend the steps of the White House to joing the Egg Roll taking place on the South Lawn on Monday.

It was a busy morning at the White House, as thousands of families descended on the South Lawn for the annual Easter Egg Roll — dubbed Gleester this year on Twitter because of the highlighted performances by the cast of Glee — hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama, with an assist from her husband. I was there, filming for Metro Weekly.

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  • chrisgeidner @ Twitter