February 2, 2023

Biden honors Roe anniversary as abortion foes convene

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, which protected abortion rights nationwide until it was overturned by the conservative-dominated supreme court last year. The White House has issued a proclamation honoring the formerly precedent-setting case, and promising to continue fighting for abortion access.

“The Court got Roe right 50 years ago. It was a balanced decision with broad national consensus that the majority of Americans have continued to support for the last 50 years. And it was a constitutional principle upheld by justices appointed by Democratic and Republican Presidents alike,” Joe Biden wrote in the proclamation, which honors “generations of advocates who have fought for reproductive freedom, to recognize the countless women whose lives and futures have been saved and shaped by the Roe v. Wade decision, and to march forward with purpose as we work together to restore the right to choose.”

“I continue to call on the Congress to pass legislation to make those protections the law of the land once and for all. Until then, I will continue to use my Executive authority to protect women and families from harm in the wake of the Dobbs decision,” which overturned Roe, the president said.

But just blocks from the White House, anti-abortion advocates are gathering for the annual March for Life rally, the first since the supreme court ruling in Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization allowed states to ban the procedure. They’ve changed up their route this year and will finish near the Capitol, a recognition that the latest front in the abortion debate is in Congress and state legislatures nationwide.

The Guardian’s Lauren Gambino is on the scene at the rally:

Abortion opponents are beginning to gather on the mall before the annual March for Life rally and march, the first since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. The theme this year is “Next Steps: Marching Forward into a Post-Roe America.” pic.twitter.com/aQnnE5SLiT

— Lauren Gambino (@laurenegambino) January 20, 2023

Key events

Closing summary

Today was the 50th anniversary of the supreme court handing down Roe v Wade, and the first since its conservative justices reversed that ruling last year and allowed states to ban the procedure. Joe Biden marked the day with a proclamation restating his administration’s commitment to protecting reproductive rights, while blocks from the White House, anti-abortion activists gathered for the annual March for Life – the first since Roe was overturned. The route for their march this year finished near the US Capitol, a signal that swaying legislatures nationwide is the next task for their movement.

Here’s what else happened today:

  • The supreme court will next week issue the first opinion of its current term after an unusually long period of silence.

  • Donald Trump has warned Republicans not to cut the popular Social Security or Medicare programs after the party’s leaders vowed to reduce government spending in exchange for raising the debt limit.

  • Today marked the halfway point of Biden’s first term in office, and reports indicate he still intends to seek a second term, with an announcement planned for after the 7 February State of the Union address.

  • Democrats breathed a big sigh of relief when Virginia senator Tim Kaine said he would seek re-election. Had he opted to retire, the party’s quest to hold on to the Senate in the 2024 election could have become more complicated.

  • Arizona’s new Democratic administration has paused executions and announced a review of the state’s use of capital punishment.

Joe Biden will host the leaders of Congress at the White House next week, Bloomberg Government reports.

He’ll also meet separately with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House speaker, about raising the debt limit:

NEWS: House, Senate Democratic leaders to White House Tuesday to talk about new session w Biden

Biden says he’ll have a separate discussion w GOP Leader #McCarthy about US #DebtLimit soon but gives no details

US default would be “unprecedented calamity,” Biden says

— Nancy Ognanovich (@NOgnanovich) January 20, 2023

In Arizona, newly elected Democratic governor Katie Hobbs has announced a review of the state’s procedures for applying the death penalty, and the attorney general has moved to pause executions.

“If Arizona is going to execute individuals, it should have a system for doing so that is transparent, accountable, and faithful to our Constitution and the rule of law,” Kris Mayes, the Democratic attorney general elected in November, said in a statement that announced the withdrawal of a pending warrant of execution for a death row prisoner.

Hobbs said she had signed an executive order creating a Death Penalty Independent Review Commissioner, who is tasked with evaluating “lethal injection drug and gas chamber chemical procurement process, execution protocols, and staffing considerations including training and experience.”

“With the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry (ADCRR) now under new leadership, it’s time to address the fact that this is a system that needs better oversight on numerous fronts,” Hobbs said. She noted that Arizona “has a history of mismanaged executions that have resulted in serious questions and concerns about ADCRR’s execution protocols and lack of transparency.”

Looks who’s at the March for Life in Washington DC.

It’s white nationalist group the Patriot Front, according to two independent photographers documenting the anti-abortion event:

In a lengthy reply to Republican House judiciary chair Jim Jordan, the justice department laid out some conditions for its cooperation with the committee, CNN reports:

News: DOJ responds to GOP Rep. Jim Jordan’s requests for documents & info related to House Judiciary Committee probes.

Makes clear department unlikely to share information about ongoing criminal investigations but will work to accommodate other requests. pic.twitter.com/mbS2zSpKbZ

— Zachary Cohen (@ZcohenCNN) January 20, 2023

Jordan’s committee is one of several in the House that Republicans are using to launch inquiries into the Biden administration, and it has already sent several requests for documents on various subjects to the White House, justice department and elsewhere.

The supreme court is well into its 2022-2023 term, but hasn’t released any opinions yet, in what court observers say is an unprecedented period of silence.

That’s set to change Monday morning, when the justices finally release their first decision, SCOTUSblog reports:

NEW: The Supreme Court expects to issue one or more opinions on Monday morning. It will be the first opinion-release of the 2022-23 term.

— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) January 20, 2023

As NBC News points out, there’s no telling which opinions they will release:

Court heard some big cases in the fall but generally its first rulings are in lower-profile cases in which the justices are (mostly) unanimous

— Lawrence Hurley (@lawrencehurley) January 20, 2023

Joanna Walters

Joanna Walters

US vice president Kamala Harris is due to give a speech on Sunday in the Florida state capital of Tallahassee, to mark the 50th anniversary of the US Supreme Court making abortion in the US a constitutional right, with its 1973 decision in the case Roe v Wade.

It would have been a celebration for those in favor of reproductive rights in America, including personal choice in the matter of abortion.

Instead, the anti-abortion movement is holding its annual rally and march in Washington in an atmosphere of triumph for the anti-choice school because of last June’s decision by the now-conservative-dominated supreme court overturning Roe.

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a roundtable discussing women’s issues, rights and empowerment at Sofitel Manila, Philippines, last November.
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a roundtable discussing women’s issues, rights and empowerment at Sofitel Manila, Philippines, last November. Photograph: Reuters

That decision in the so-called Dobbs case out of Mississippi ripped up Roe and threw away federal abortion rights, returning the power to make law on abortion back to individual states.

On Sunday, Harris will make a pro-choice speech and moments ago, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the veep chose Florida partly because it has tough restrictions on abortion – though less so than its neighboring states.

“Florida’s restrictions are not as tough as neighbors,” said Jean-Pierre, but noted that Florida “is considering an even more extreme ban which would be devastating for women.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre takes the podium in the west wing of the White House for the daily media briefing.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre takes the podium in the west wing of the White House for the daily media briefing. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Harris and Joe Biden have been in office for exactly two years today.

Trump withdraws lawsuit against New York attorney general

Joanna Walters

Joanna Walters

In the wake of a federal judge ordering Donald Trump and one of his attorneys to jointly pay nearly $1m in penalties for pursuing a frivolous lawsuit that accused Hillary Clinton and others, the former president today also withdrew his lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The case against James, in federal court in Florida, had also been before US district court judge Donald Middlebrooks, the Associated Press reports.

Just in: Trump withdraws suit against NY State AG Letitia James — the type of frivolous case that was cited by the judge who last night imposed sanctions of nearly $1 million against Trump and his lawyer Alina Habba

— Hugo Lowell (@hugolowell) January 20, 2023

Trump sued James in November in response to her lawsuit alleging he and his company mislead banks and others about the value of assets in a practice she dubbed “The art of the steal” [a parody on Trump’s best-selling book about getting rich as a New York real estate mogul, The Art of the Deal.]

Trump, a Republican, also sought to prevent James, a Democrat, from having any oversight over the family trust that controls his company.

His 35-page complaint rehashed some claims from his previously dismissed lawsuit against James in federal court in New York, irritating Middlebrooks.

Middlebrooks wrote in an order in December:

This litigation has all the telltale signs of being both vexatious and frivolous.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem National Action Network event last Monday.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem National Action Network event last Monday. Photograph: Ron Adar/REX/Shutterstock

The day so far

Today is the 50th anniversary of the supreme court handing down Roe v Wade, and the first since its conservative justices reversed that ruling last year and allowed states to ban the procedure. Joe Biden marked the day with a proclamation restating his administration’s commitment to protecting reproductive rights, while blocks from the White House, anti-abortion activists have gathered for the annual March for Life – the first since Roe was overturned. In a sign of the struggle ahead, the route for their march this year will finish near the US Capitol, a signal that legislatures nationwide are now the main battlefields for their movement.

Here’s what else has happened today:

  • Donald Trump has warned Republicans not to go after the popular Social Security or Medicare programs after the party’s leaders promised to cut government spending in exchange for raising the debt limit.

  • Today marks the halfway point of Biden’s first term in office, and reports indicate he still plans to seek a second term, with an announcement planned for after the 7 February State of the Union address.

  • Democrats breathed a big sigh of relief when Virginia senator Tim Kaine said he would seek a third term. Had he opted to retire, the party’s quest to hold on to the Senate in the 2024 election could have become more complicated.

Judge: DeSantis broke law by suspending Florida state attorney

Richard Luscombe

Ron DeSantis violated the law when he suspended a Florida state attorney for saying he wouldn’t enforce the state’s restrictive new 15-week abortion ban, a judge has ruled.

But district court judge Robert Hinkle says he doesn’t have the authority to overturn the Republican governor’s decision and reinstate Hillsborough county state attorney Andrew Warren to office.

Andrew Warren.
Andrew Warren. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Reuters

DeSantis removed Warren in August after the Democrat said he wouldn’t enforce the abortion law, or prosecute providers of gender transition treatment for young people. Accusing Warren of following a “woke” agenda, the governor said he had put himself “above the law”.

But in a scathing 59-page ruling released Friday, Hinkle said it was DeSantis, a likely candidate for the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nomination, who had broken the law.

He rejected DeSantis’s assertion that Warren had a blanket policy of not prosecuting certain cases, and that Warren had every right as a state attorney to “exercise prosecutorial discretion at every stage of every case”:

The governor violated the first amendment by considering Mr Warren’s speech on matters of public concern as motivating factors in the decision to suspend him.

The governor [also] violated the first amendment by considering Mr Warren’s association with the Democratic party.

Hinkle conceded that DeSantis would still have removed Warren without the violations, and because they didn’t affect the outcome, he couldn’t provide injunctive relief.

DeSantis’s violation of the Florida state constitution did affect the outcome, Hinkle said. But he noted the 11th amendment prohibited a federal court awarding relief against a state official based only on a violation of state law, and that he had no alternative to dismiss Warren’s request for reinstatement.

In an earlier stage of the legal case, Hinkle ordered DeSantis to testify in defense of his decision, but backed down in November.

With his legal path to reinstatement now apparently blocked, Warren is expected to lay out his next steps to reporters later today.

The demise of Roe v Wade was unusual in that Americans knew it was coming weeks in advance.

That’s because somebody obtained a draft of the decision in the Dobbs case and leaked it to Politico, a highly unusual development for an institution whose inner workings are almost never revealed. Chief justice John Roberts ordered an investigation into the leak, but yesterday, the court’s marshal said they could not figure out who did it.

That hasn’t sat well with some. Republican senator John Kennedy deployed his trademark colorful language in an interview with Fox News, blaming the leaker for putting a supreme court justice in danger:

“Congratulations, butthead.”

— Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-LA) message to the leaker of the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion on overturning Roe v. Wade pic.twitter.com/m6XMognn70

— The Recount (@therecount) January 20, 2023

He doesn’t name him, but Kennedy is likely referring to Brett Kavanaugh,a conservative who was among the justices voting to overturn Roe. Last summer, a 26-year-old man was arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate Kavanaugh.

The sentiment among March for Life attendees is a mixture of politics, prayer and poetry, the Guardian’s Lauren Gambino reports from the rally:

Signage is similar to last years: “I am the post-roe generation.” “Love them both” with an image of a pregnant woman.

Also spotted some Trump 2024 signage and attire and at least one “let’s go Brandon” flag.” pic.twitter.com/pXD0iUvD8S

— Lauren Gambino (@laurenegambino) January 20, 2023

The Irish musician performing at the rally is asking women to pray for the men in the audience who are here standing up for women and children pic.twitter.com/sSrHQoLQ3j

— Lauren Gambino (@laurenegambino) January 20, 2023

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