Jason Pye

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Push for religious freedom legislation likely after Supreme Court rejects photographer’s case

The Supreme Court unceremoniously announced yesterday that it would not hear arguments in Elane Photography v. Willock, a case involving a New Mexico-based photographer who had refused to provide services for a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Elane Huguenin, a Christian and owner of Elane Photography, doesn’t support same-sex marriage and argued that her free speech rights were violated by an anti-discrimination statute that compels her to offer her services. New Mexico’s public accommodation law is broadly written, leaving little room for businesses to object to serve, even on religious grounds.

Though Elane Photography did initially make a religious liberty argument, Lyle Denniston explains that Huguenin’s attorneys didn’t bring that question to the Supreme Court. “Instead,” Denniston notes, “they argued that, since photography is a form of expression, the government should not be allowed to compel the use of that freedom in ways that the business owners find objectionable.”

The Cato Institute filed a brief in support of Elane Photography in December, noting that even though the libertarian think tank supports marriage equality, “a commitment to egalitarian principles can’t justify the restriction of constitutionally protected fundamental rights like freedom of speech or association.”

Today in Liberty: Boehner’s future still up in the air, libertarianism rises

“My thing is personal freedoms, freedoms for the individual to love whom they want, do with what they want. In fact, I want the government out of almost everything.”Rob Lowe

— Boaz on the “libertarian surge”: At Politico Magazine, David Boaz, executive vice president at the Cato Institute, explains why libertarianism is growing in popularity. “Lots of libertarians were involved in the tea party and the opposition to the bailouts, the car company takeovers, the 2009 stimulus bill and the quasi-nationalization of health care. But libertarians were also involved in the movement for gay marriage,” Boaz writes. “Indeed, John Podesta, a top adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and founder of the Center for American Progress, noted in 2011 that you probably had to have been a libertarian to have supported gay marriage 15 years earlier. Or take marijuana legalization, which is just now becoming a majority position: Libertarians have been leaders in the opposition to the drug war for many years.” He points out that libertarians “have played a key role in the defense of the right to keep and bear arms over the years.” He also notes that Ron Paul and, more recently, his son, Rand Paul, have sparked interest in the libertarian philosophy.

Audit the Fed bill nearing majority support in the House

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act (H.R. 24) is just a handful of cosponsors away from a majority of the House of Representatives, though the measure remains stalled in the committee with jurisdiction.

The Audit the Fed cause was picked up by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) after Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) retired. The Georgia Republican introduced the measure on the first day of the 113th Congress with just five cosponsors. By the end of January 2013, another 97 members had added their names to the bill.

Since that time, however, the total number of cosponsors has more than doubled. The Audit the Fed bill now has 204 cosponsors* (186 Republicans and 18 Democrats), just 14 away from a majority of the chamber.

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act would require the central bank to open certain information to the Government Accountability Office currently excluded from audits in subsection (b) of 31 USC 714. This would include the Federal Reserve’s agreements and transactions with foreign central banks and discussions between the Treasury Department.

Hurdles obviously remain. The measure has not yet been reported out of the House Financial Services Committee, though its chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), expressed support for the measure in the past. He isn’t a cosponsor.

State legislatures push back against online gambling ban

online gambling

The proposal to ban online gambling introduced at the behest of casino owner and major Republican donor Sheldon Adelson has been met with opposition from the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that serves legislators across the country.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced the proposal, the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (H.R. 4301 and S. 2159), in their respective chambers at the end of March. While the supporters are making this out to be some sort of moral crusade, Adelson is using his money and influence to protect brick-and-mortar casinos from competition.

But the National Conference of State Legislatures is pushing back against the measure, telling federal lawmakers that regulation of online gambling should be left up to state lawmakers:

In a letter to lawmakers on Thursday, the bipartisan group said the push would amount to the federal government usurping the role of the states to decide the legality of gambling online.

AR Senate: Mark Pryor says he’d vote for Obamacare again

Mark Pryor

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has doubled-down on his support for Obamacare. Even though the law has led to premium increases and caused millions to lose their health plans, the vulnerable Democrat told a local media outlet that he would vote for it all over again.

KARK’s Matt Mosler noted that 6 million people lost their health insurance coverage and that a small percentage of signups came from the uninsured. Pryor, however, disputed the numbers.

“I don’t know that I’d go with the 6 million figure that they’ve lost their health insurance,” Pryor said in video made available by America Rising. “I mean, again, some of these stats are very debatable.”

The 6 million figure may or may not overestimate the number of health plan cancellations. The Associated Press reported at the end of the year that this number came to around 4.7 million.

House Democrat: Our $174,000 annual salary isn’t enough

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) says the $174,000 annual salary members of Congress receive isn’t enough to live on in Washington, D.C. In fact, the appropropriator believes that he and his colleagues should get an additional stipend for each day they’re in session.

“I think that the American people should know that members of Congress are underpaid,” Moran told Roll Call last week. “I understand that it’s widely felt that they underperform, but the fact is that this is the board of directors for the largest economic entity in the world.”

“A lot of members can’t even afford to live decently when they’re at their job in Washington,” he said. “Some of them and others have small little apartment units, and they’re not able to spend the time they should with their families.”

Look, regardless of how one feels about Congress, its members do serve an important role in our government. That’s true. But the notion that they don’t make enough money to “live decently” in Washington falls flat.

Though there are many members who are independently wealthy and can afford to live in luxury in Washington, others have modest lives or live paycheck to paycheck.

Today in Liberty: House to vote on Ryan budget, Second Amendment hero passes away

“Don’t hurt people, and don’t take their stuff. That’s it, in a nutshell. Everyone should be free to live their lives as they think best, free from meddling by politicians and government bureaucrats, as long as they don’t hurt other people, or take other people’s stuff.”Matt Kibbe

— White House suggests amendment to limit free speech: While Shaun McCutcheon was touting last week’s big win for the First Amendment, White House Adviser Dan Pfeiffer preached doom and gloom, suggesting that a constitutional amendment to limit free speech “may be the only option” to undo recent court rulings.

GA Senate: When a Democrat tries to paint herself as a Republican

Michelle Nunn

By almost all accounts, Michelle Nunn is going to make the U.S. Senate race in Georgia very interesting. The daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) has outraised her potential Republican opponents and the most recent poll out of the Peach State found that she’s statistically tied with most of them.

How has Nunn managed to make this red-leaning state competitive? Our friends at Peach Pundit offer an example. In their morning email, they explain that Nunn, a Democrat, doesn’t mention her party very often. In fact, in her first ad of the cycle, her campaign plays up stereotypical Republican themes:

Robert Gibbs predicts demise of Obamacare’s employer mandate

Robert Gibbs

In a speech at an insurance industry event in Colorado, Robert Gibbs, a former White House official, predicted that the Obama administration will permanently nix Obamacare’s employer mandate, a destructive provision of the law that has been delayed twice already:

“I don’t think the employer mandate will go into effect. It’s a small part of the law. I think it will be one of the first things to go,” he said to a notably surprised audience.

The employer mandate has been delayed twice, he noted. The vast majority of employers with 100 or more employees offer health insurance, and there aren’t many employers who fall into the mandate window, he said.

Killing the employer mandate would be one way to improve the law — and there are a handful of other “common sense” improvements needed as well, he said.

The employer mandate is a provision of Obamacare that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees, defined as someone who works at least 30 hours a week, to offer health insurance benefits or face a punitive, $2,000 per worker tax.

Vulnerable Senate Democrats pledge to allegiance to Harry Reid

With control of the Senate hanging in the balance, some have wondered if that could bring to an end Harry Reid’s (D-NV) leadership of the Democratic conference. Many of his colleagues are already expressing support, according to Politico, regardless of the outcome of the 2014 election.

Among  those openly backing Reid to serve again as the party’s leader are Sens. Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Mark Pryor — three of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year:

“Absolutely,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, a vulnerable Louisiana Democrat facing voters this fall, said when asked if she would back Reid as leader no matter the outcome of the November elections. “We all share in success, we all share in the failures; we’re a team. But Harry Reid has tremendous respect of members of our caucus. … I don’t believe that he would be challenged in our party for leadership until he’s ready to step aside.”
“Yeah,” Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor, another Democrat facing a tough race, said when asked if he’d back Reid again. “It’s up to him on whether he wants to do it.”

“Harry Reid is our leader, and I certainly do support Harry,” said Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). “And I have a huge race going on right now, and I will be victorious. And I will be back next year. And we can talk all about that then.”

Other potentially vulnerable Senate Democrats weren’t so willing to express support for Reid. Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) hedged on the question, telling Politico he’s worried about their own political survival, while Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) wouldn’t comment.

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