Civil Rights

Supreme Court defaults to liberty and federalism on marriage


In the 15 months since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in United States v. Windsor in June 2013, which invalidated the strict federal definition of marriage from the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, seven other cases were appealed to the Court, all of which last ruled at the Circuit-level that the state same-sex marriage bans in question were unconstitutional.

In a stunning decision Monday, the Court denied the appeals of all seven cases, meaning the Circuit decisions unanimously striking down those bans are upheld and same-sex couples will soon have equal marriage rights in all states under those Circuits’ jurisdiction.

Nearly everyone expected the Roberts court to grant certiori to the cases and bundle them together to issue a final sweeping ruling on the issue at the end of its next term in mid-2015, so the blanket denial shocked the legal and political communities. It only takes four of the nine justices to grant certiori, so in effect, this was at minimum a 6-3 default ruling in favor of marriage equality.

An Open Letter to Jeffco Student Protesters Concerning History Standards

Colorado HS Student Protesters

Dear Student Protesters of Jefferson County:

I must begin with a confession. When I first learned of your student walkouts concerning some proposed changes to the AP History curriculum, I was more than a little bit cynical. These walkouts, I thought, were little more than an excuse to skip class and be ‘part of something.’ I don’t doubt that some students joined the walkouts for that reason; there are always individuals who join a cause because it seems to be the popular thing to do (I should point out that there are many people my age and older who do the very same thing so this is not a criticism of young people per se). This open letter is not intended for these students but for those of you who honestly care about the proposed changes to the history curriculum.

As I started reading about these protests it didn’t take me long to realize that you have very good reason to protest: the aims of the Jeffco School Board for the history curriculum are at best contradictory and misguided. The following paragraph in the Board Committee for Curriculum Review must be the primary reason for your protests:

Why the Obama Administration absolutely hates school choice

Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. Scott Walker decided to give their two cents on the school choice issue on Politico Magazine. While it was a charming piece, it seriously was lacking in one very important issue.

Yes, it is true that the Obama administration, particularly the Department of Justice, has been doing everything that it can to prevent needy children from increasing their educational opportunities through the expansion of school choice programs.

Facts and numbers are still hard for Democrats to figure out, and they love lying about them when they don’t fit their agenda. No, school choice does not hurt minority children — usually it is the lifeline they need to move up in the world.

And there lies the problem for Democrats.

I’m generally certain that Jindal and Walker are completely aware of the fact that the real issue here has nothing to do with racism or civil rights. What I can’t understand is why they chose to play in the liberal court on this issue.

The real problem that this administration has with school choice is that it could result in a reduced number of potential voters for Democrats in the future. This is about political power, not helping poor children or improving education.

What we need to remember is that public education as we know it today has deep roots in the “Great Society” of Lyndon B. Johnson. While there are many quotes from Johnson’s many speeches that offer a vision of an America without racism, and wonderful educational opportunities for all, that doesn’t necessarily show the whole picture.

#IAmUnitedLiberty: How Reality TV Influenced Stephen Littau’s Libertarian Views


Note: This is one in a series of profiles of UL contributors and friends and how they became involved in the “liberty movement.” Share your story on Twitter using the hashtag #IAmUnitedLiberty.

In 1999, I was living in a small studio apartment in Phoenix by myself and three years into my career. As the 2000 campaign was underway, I wanted to learn about the candidates. The news wasn’t terribly informative as it mostly covered how well the candidates were polling rather than where they stood on the issues.

Due to this frustration, I did the one thing I had often made fun of my dad for doing: I started listening to talk radio. One day there was a substitute host on The Rush Limbaugh Show. The host’s name was none other than Walter E. Williams.

As I listened to him, I realized he made so much more sense than anyone else on the radio. It was a shame that he didn’t have a show of his own, I thought. And though I had heard the term “libertarian” before, I didn’t have much of an idea about what they really stood for. Walter Williams was my first introduction to libertarianism and I was always thrilled when he filled in for Rush.

Still, Walter Williams ideas, as good as they were seemed a little abstract. The abstract, however; became more concrete as I started watching the reality show COPS (though, I don’t think they called it “reality” TV back then).

New Jersey rejects atheist license plate, conservatives chortle

For the second time in as many years, a New Jersey resident has been denied a customized license plate with an atheist message. In August 2013, a man was denied the licence plate “ATHE1ST” because a Motor Vehicle Commission clerk found it “offensive.”

And last week a woman was denied her requested for an “8THEIST” plate on the commission’s website. The former request was eventually granted, and the current one almost certainly will as well, especially since the woman has filed a federal lawsuit.

While the 2013 denial was an explicit in-person objection, Shannon Morgan’s request of “8THEIST” was only denied by the automated online system. Morgan said she “attempted to contact the state Motor Vehicle Commission in November and March, according to the lawsuit, but received no response or explanation”, while the commission says it reviews “every request personally.”

It is unclear whether the initial request of “8THEIST” was reviewed “personally” since it appeared to be immediately rejected by the online system, or whether the personal reviews are only of appealed requests. Also unclear is whether Morgan’s request has actually been appealed through the proper channels and/or reviewed by the commission. Regardless, after several months of no response from state officials, she has decided to file suit instead.

Obama has gotten one individual liberty issue right


Call it a case of the proverbial broken clock being right twice a day. President Obama has been terrible on most liberty issues, of course. He came into office promising a hands-off approach to medical marijuana states, but his DEA and FBI have kept the pace of the Bush administration on clinic raids. He has proposed and supported restrictive gun regulations, though his infamous “executive actions” didn’t end up amounting to all that much.

The myriad Obamacare mandates are egregious violations of individual and organizational liberty. But there’s one area where Obama has gotten it exactly right, or at least as well as can be expected from a modern President: individual rights for gay Americans.

Coming out and the prevalence of special interest days

CarbonNYC (CC)

In case you missed it, today was “National Coming Out Day” in the U.S. In the general scheme of things, it probably isn’t particularly meaningful to anyone that isn’t highly concerned with gay rights, or is in fact homsexual. Yes, there probably was a fair amount of lampooning of the day on social media, but other than that, there are far too many other issues weighing on Americans right now to worry about this one.

And that brings up an interesting thing to consider - do we really need all of these “special interest awareness” days? This is something that has been brought up about various national holidays (are they really anything more than an excuse for governmental workers and banks to take a long weekend?), and some obviously commercialized ones (who else thinks it’s insane that a dozen roses costs roughly four times more in the second week of February, versus the second week in January?) So, there’s an obvious capitalistic reason for most holidays at least, and merchants have taken advantage of the various “banker’s holidays” to get more customers in their doors. But these awareness days are a different beast entirely.

Yes, there is much love for days devoted to the various ribbon campaigns - the consensus is that cancer is bad, and it’s always good to increase the public’s awareness about warning signs for diseases. Stopping the abuse of children obviously needs some public attention. Then there are the fun ones that leave us with freebies - who doesn’t like a day when we can get a free cup of coffee, or a free donut? But, the whole National Coming Out Day thing? Well, that’s a horse of a different color. The whole point of it is to foster an environment where people can talk frankly about what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Why?

MLK+50: Civil Liberties and the Civil Rights Movement

This weekend, being the 50 year anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - the site of Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic “I Have a Dream” speech – the National Action Network led a march of over 100,000 people, urging America to “Realize the Dream.” That Dr. King is the only non-President with a monument on the National Mall is a sign of his lasting legacy. He is truly a founding father in modern American history. On this anniversary, it is prudent to assess the progress of the Movement he led and to compare and contrast what he stood for then, its importance today, and where it’s going.

First off, just as an individual should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, the merit of a movement should not be judged by the human flaws of its leadership but by the principles for which it stands. Fifty years later, when it is assessed by those principles, it is clear there are signs of tremendous progress by the Civil Rights Movement. Most notably, in 2012, President Obama was reelected with much less attention paid to his race than his 2008 election. Culturally, we are much more racially egalitarian in our daily interactions. On the surface, race doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.

On Libertarian Populism and the Liberty Movement

 Much is being made of this idea called ”Libertarian Populism” and its perceived value as a winning political strategy. The problem is, few seem to know what those words really mean. As such, a range of politicians and policies have incorrectly been grafted onto specific words that have specific meanings.

I’ve silently watched as this LibPop movement(?) has unfolded; see this litany of articles at this link roundup provided by Reason Magazine. The term seems to have been coined at a book forum for Tim Carney at the Cato Institute. In its next iteration, Ross Douthat succinctly defined Libertarian Populism as:

“A strain of thought that moves from the standard grassroots conservative view of Washington as an inherently corrupt realm of special interests and self-dealing elites to a broader skepticism of ‘bigness’ in all its forms (corporate as well as governmental), that regards the Bush era as an object lesson in everything that can go wrong (at home and abroad) when conservatives set aside this skepticism, and that sees the cause of limited government as a means not only to safeguarding liberty, but to unwinding webs of privilege and rent-seeking and enabling true equality of opportunity as well.”

5 items in the PRISM report you need to read

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a report on the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs. Essentially, it is a “What You Need To Know, Mr. Representative” memo, mostly a summary of issues that have already been discussed publicly at length. It is nonetheless a useful document for the public to catch up on what is known.

Packed in its 15 pages are a number of interesting datapoints, with these being the big things you should know:

1. The standard for investigation is subjective.

The report notes the authority to investigate and take someone’s domestic phone records is invoked by crossing a very low bar. Section 50 USC § 1861 (b)(2)(a) asks that an investigator submit “a statement of facts showing there are reasonable grounds to believe” an investigation is necessary. The report notes there is no statutory definition of “reasonable grounds,” though it speculates that the standard is probably less stringent than “probable cause” and may be merely a synonym for “reasonable suspicion.”

Moreover, federal statute authorizes law enforcement to obtain personal communications data if “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that data is “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.” There’s no definition of relevancy, either. Relevancy, instead, is “generally understood” (the report’s words) to require “only that the information sought would tend to prove or disprove a fact at issue.”

In today’s surveillance world, that doesn’t serve as much of a check on government snooping. If agents believe your records of ordering pizza (or ordering pornography) may disprove or prove some fact at issue, then they’ll be sure to get those records.


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