Tag Archives: US Supreme Court

DANGER! U.S. Supreme Court rules that your neighbor can own and operate a machine gun

Court holds technical issue more important than saving lives

In her scathing dissent, liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor accused her conservative colleagues of ignoring bump stocks’ ability to transform semiautomatic firearms into much more powerful and deadly weapons….A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger’.… Because I, like Congress, call that a machine gun, I respectfully dissent…..The majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the government’s efforts to keep machine guns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.”

>> Back in 2019, the BenIndy covered news of the passage of the bump stock ban following the Las Vegas massacre. At that time, the welcome headline was Bump Stock Ban Now Official Nationwide – Supreme Court. A few days later, a follow-up story headline was Supreme Court Refuses to Block ‘Bump Stock’ Ban Over Thomas and Gorsuch’s Dissent.

Public reaction was so strong after the Las Vegas disaster that even the National Rifle Association joined the call for the add-ons to be taken out of circulation.

Oh how times have changed – on the Supreme Court, that is. Today, the 6 rightwing justices took issue with the technical definition of a machine gun and ignored the fundamental intent of the 1930’s machine gun ban AND the 2019 bump stock ban – to eliminate the massive threat of high volume military style weaponry on our streets. Reporting by the New York Times and others follow here.

NYT Editorial: The Supreme Court’s Bump Stock Decision Will Prove Fatal

New York Times, by David Firestone, Deputy Editor, the Editorial Board

There was nothing abstract about the 6-to-3 decision issued Friday morning by the Supreme Court to permit bump stocks to be used on semiautomatic rifles. It is one of the most astonishingly dangerous decisions ever issued by the court, and it will almost surely result in a loss of American lives in another mass shooting.

Bump stocks attach to the back of a rifle and use the gun’s recoil to enable shooting hundreds of bullets at a very rapid pace, far faster than anyone could shoot by pressing the trigger multiple times. The device is the reason the Las Vegas shooter in 2017 was able to kill 60 people and wound more than 400 others so quickly in the nation’s worst mass shooting in modern history.

Bump stock devices were banned the next year, just as all fully automatic machine guns are banned for public use, but the six conservative members of the court seemed entirely unbothered by their deadly potential. The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, parses in a ridiculous level of detail whether bump stocks truly fit the precise mechanical definition of a machine gun. Because the court feels the need to give the greatest possible deference to the ownership of guns, however they might be used, the court concluded that they are not really machine guns, as they do not allow firing multiple rounds “by a single function of the trigger.”

The opinion, full of lovingly detailed close-up drawings of a gun’s innards (provided by the Firearms Policy Foundation, a pro-gun nonprofit group), says nothing about the purpose of a bump stock. Why would someone buy the device and use it? Only to fire a lightning burst of rounds. In the hands of an angry shooter — and there are so many of them — it would produce far more carnage, which is why even the Trump administration banned it.

But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissent laced with astonishment at what her colleagues had done, didn’t hesitate to explain what was really happening. “When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” she wrote, and in this case, the duck is an illegal machine gun. (Which, by the way, is not typically used for killing ducks.) Skilled shooters using an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle can fire 180 rounds per minute, she wrote, but a bump stock allows them to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute, which is the ordinary understanding of a fully automatic machine gun.

“Today’s decision to reject that ordinary understanding will have deadly consequences,” Sotomayor wrote. “The majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the government’s efforts to keep machine guns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.” And when the next Las Vegas happens, it will not be enough to blame it on the madness of a single deranged individual. There are so many others.

David Firestone, a former reporter and editor for the Washington bureau and the Metropolitan and National desks of The Times, is a member of the editorial board.

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Previously on the BenIndy:

“Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness / Are invalidated, kicked aside” – Slate and Mary Susan Gast reflect on Dobbs

[Note from BenIndy: This article from Slate benefits from a special introduction. Mary Susan Gast’s “Criminal,” plucked from the 229th volume of “Going the Distance…Not There Yet,” does this tough job very nicely. Together, they paint a damning picture…and promise a dire future.]


With vicious intent,
With malice aforethought,
Personhood, self-preservation,
Commitment to duty,
Life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness
Are invalidated, kicked aside, for anyone
Possessing a functioning uterus.

Swathed in putrid dogma
Spawned by a medieval all male celibate clergy
Hell-bent on their vision of flesh-denying holiness
Who couldn’t for the life of them
Justify the existence of women
Except for procreation,
Lawmakers now are free
To declare full citizenship for every fertilized ovum,
To call abortion murder,
To decree that
If you should conceive,
Whatever the circumstances,
Can keep you from becoming a birth mother—
Or die trying.

The intent smolders blood red with savagery.
To call abortion murder
May be narcissistic projection
In its most polished form ever.

Mary Susan Gast, 2022

Republican Officials Openly Insult Women Nearly Killed by Abortion Bans

Nicole Blackmon, Allie Phillips, and Jennifer Adkins. | Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Center for Reproductive Rights.

Red states would rather let a patient die than let her terminate a dangerous pregnancy. And they’re barely pretending otherwise.

Slate, by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern, January 9, 2024

For many years before S.B. 8 passed in Texas and was then swept into existence by the Supreme Court, and before Dobbs ushered in a more formal regime of forced childbirth six months later, the groups leading the charge against reproductive rights liked to claim that they loved pregnant women and only wanted them to be safe and cozy, stuffed chock-full of good advice and carted around through extra-wide hallways for safe, sterile procedures in operating rooms with only the best HVAC systems. Then Dobbs came down and within minutes it became manifestly clear that these advocates actually viewed pregnant people as the problem standing in the way of imaginary, healthy babies—and that states willing to privilege fetal life would go to any and all lengths to ensure that actual patients’ care, comfort, informed consent, and very survival would be subordinate.

For many years before S.B. 8 passed in Texas and was then swept into existence by the Supreme Court, and before Dobbs ushered in a more formal regime of forced childbirth six months later, the groups leading the charge against reproductive rights liked to claim that they loved pregnant women and only wanted them to be safe and cozy, stuffed chock-full of good advice and carted around through extra-wide hallways for safe, sterile procedures in operating rooms with only the best HVAC systems. Then Dobbs came down and within minutes it became manifestly clear that these advocates actually viewed pregnant people as the problem standing in the way of imaginary, healthy babies—and that states willing to privilege fetal life would go to any and all lengths to ensure that actual patients’ care, comfort, informed consent, and very survival would be subordinate.

We are only beginning to understand the extent to which pregnant women are dying and will continue to die due to denials of basic maternal health care, candid medical advice, and adequate treatment. The issue of emergency abortions, though, has already rocketed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed on Friday to decide whether federal law compels hospitals to terminate dangerous pregnancies regardless of state bans. No matter how SCOTUS rules, the fallout is already all around us. The stories of Kate Cox in Texas, devastated would-be mothers in Tennessee, and a horrifying prosecution of a mother who miscarried in Ohio all surface the brutal reality of the post-Dobbs zeitgeist: Any woman who seeks to terminate a pregnancy is wicked, any woman who miscarries is evil, and any woman who—for reasons of failing health, circumstance, or simple bad luck—does not prove to be an adequate incubator deserves whatever she gets. Every unborn fetus is the priority over the pregnant person carrying it and must be carried to term at all costs. So goes the moral calculus of the death-panel judges who now determine how to weigh the competing interests between real, existing human life and a state’s dogmatic fixation with a fetus that, by definition, must be seraphically innocent.

One need only look at red states’ scramble to defend their draconian abortion bans to witness this perverse moral hierarchy in action. In the wake of Roe v. Wade’s demise, the victims of these laws are no longer hypothetical: They are flesh-and-blood women, directly and viscerally injured by the denial of basic health care, and some of them have even had the gall to fight for their rights. Republican attorneys general have responded with furious indignation, openly demeaning these women as liars, wimps, partisans, and baby killers.

A recent filing by the office of Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan T. Skrmetti, a Republican, captures the dynamic all too well. Skrmetti has been fighting a lawsuit filed by a group of Tennessee women denied emergency abortions under the ultranarrow medical exception to that state’s ban. The women plaintiffs suffered an appalling range of trauma, including sepsis and hemorrhaging, because they could not terminate their pregnancies. The attorney general’s response to their complaint is a scathing, shockingly personal broadside against the victims of the ban. He accused them of attempting to draw “lines about which unborn lives are worth protecting” by imposing a medical exception “of their own liking.” He mocked them for asserting that ostensibly minor conditions like “sickle cell disease” might justify an abortion. And he insisted that the lead plaintiff, Nicole Blackmon, lacks standing, because she underwent sterilization after the state forced her to carry a nonviable pregnancy and deliver a stillborn baby. The attorney general viciously suggested that, if Blackmon reallywanted to fight Tennessee’s ban, she could have tried for another doomed pregnancy.

Perhaps Skrmetti deserves half credit for candor, because he did not even pretend to treat these plaintiffs like compelling moral human beings. Instead, he wrote that Tennessee may allow different standards of care for pregnant and nonpregnant women. A pregnant woman, the attorney general averred, may be refused a treatment if it “has the potential to harm unborn lives—an issue not implicated” when treating nonpregnant women. “No equal-protection rule,” he concluded, “bars lawmakers from acting on that difference to protect unborn babies.” In other words, once a woman is pregnant, she becomes a vessel for “unborn babies,” giving the state authority to cut off her access to urgently necessary health care. Since nonpregnant women don’t immediately suffer the consequences of abortion bans, those bans don’t discriminate on the basis of sex.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his staff have evinced similar hostility toward plaintiffs in the Lone Star State who brought a nearly identical suit. The lead plaintiff in that case, Amanda Zurawski, was denied an abortion for three agonizing days after her water broke in the second trimester, leading her to develop sepsis; she nearly died in the ICU, and may never be able to get pregnant again. Paxton’s response? Because she might now be infertile—as a direct result of Texas lawZurawski lacks standing to sue. When the case went to trial, Texas’ lawyers asked profoundly insulting questions of the plaintiffs. “Did Attorney General Ken Paxton tell you you couldn’t get an abortion?” they pressed each woman after pressing them for invasive details about their failed pregnancies. One plaintiff vomited on the stand after recounting her horror story.

These arguments are echoed by red-state attorneys general around the country, like Idaho’s Raúl Labrador, who proclaimed that women forced to carry dangerous, nonviable pregnancies merely “disagree with the legitimate policy choices made by the Idaho legislature.” (Should an Idaho resident suffering excruciating pain from a failing pregnancy drive to the statehouse rather than the emergency room? Labrador seems to think so.) Critically, these lawyers and politicians and activists are gaslighting their real victims. During a hearing over Zurawski’s case at the Texas Supreme Court, Beth Klusmann of the Texas attorney general’s office shifted the blame onto doctors: “If a woman is bleeding,” Klusmann said, “if she has amniotic fluid running down her legs—then the problem is not with the law. It is with the doctors.”

Months later, this exact scenario occurred: Kate Cox was bleeding and leaking amniotic fluid. She asked for an abortion. Her doctor could not provide one under Texas law without risking a 99-year prison sentence. That physician sued for permission to obtain one. Paxton immediately fought her lawsuit tooth and nail, accusing Cox of being a shameless liar and threatening to prosecute any health care provider who assisted her in terminating the pregnancy. And he prevailed, securing a Texas Supreme Court decision blocking Cox’s abortion. (She traveled out of state to get it.)

Cox’s problem was not with the doctors. It was with the law. Specifically, it was with a set of judges, state officials, and lawyers who cast her as a selfish liar and a bad mother for valuing her life above that of a nonviable fetus. Nothing Cox, nor Zurawski, nor the Tennessee plaintiffs could have alleged or argued would have saved them from being derided, insulted, and denied treatment for the crimes of failing to put their unborn fetuses before their own lives.

Or look to Dr. Ingrid Skop, an anti-abortion activist who has routinely testified in favor of total abortion bans. During a congressional hearing, Skop assured Zurawski that her doctor could and should have provided her a legal abortion, given the condition to which she had degenerated, and that her physician simply misunderstood the relevant Texas law. Then, Skop filed a declaration in Cox’s case attesting that her doctor could not provide a legal abortion under Texas law. These activists know what to say in public to assure Americans that abortion bans treat women humanely. And then they use every legal, medical, and advocacy weapon they hold at their disposal to strip these women of their humanity when they’re in need of an abortion.

PBS News Hour – American democracy is in an uncharted and fragile place

‘Tyranny of the Minority’ writers say Constitution not strong enough to protect democracy

[It’s not like we haven’t heard this before from Rachel Maddow, Professor Timothy Snyder and the “liberal” media.  The significance here is the boldness of PBS News Hour to broadcast truth to the general public.  If you don’t have time for the excellent 7 minute interview, see below the video for my summary of the two Harvard government professors’ main points and recommendations.  – BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw]

Amna Nawaz is an American broadcast journalist and a co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour.

>> America’s democracy is in an uncharted and fragile place, according to two Harvard government professors. In their new book, “Tyranny of the Minority,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt say politicians are welcoming anti-democratic extremists into their party ranks and part of the problem lies in the Constitution. Laura Barrón-López spoke with the writers about how the country got to this point.

Introduction and thesis
Laura Barrón-López is the White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, where she covers the Biden administration for the nightly news broadcast. She is also a CNN political analyst. Previously, Barrón-López was a White House reporter for POLITICO.

Laura Barron-Lopez: One of America’s two major political parties has turned away from democracy, warn Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. One key accomplice to the backsliding, they say, are politicians called semi-loyalists, who rather than expel anti-democratic extremists from their party ranks, accept and make room for them. Why is this happening? Their new book, “Tyranny of the minority,” concludes that part of the problem lies in the constitution. They joined me now. Thank you so much for joining. Steve, can you first establish we knew, as someone as an expert in the collapse of democracies, diagnosed that there is now a popular authoritarian movement within the Republican party?


To be a party committed to democracy, you have to do three simple things:

  1. First, you have to accept election losses win or lose.
  2. Number two, you have to not use violence to gain or hold onto power.
  3. And three, most critically in some sense, for mainstream political parties, you have to distance yourself and be explicit and open about  condemning anybody who’s an ally of your party that commits any of those first two types of acts.

Over the past four years, we have seen a decay of that in the Republican party, including among mainstream members of the senate. This is a violation of that third principle, people who knew what was happening on January 6 and did very little to stop it.

What can be done?

Laura: Daniel, your book warns that the constitution, the world’s oldest written constitution, is part of the problem, is part of what is imperiling democracy.  What changes do you think need to be made?
Daniel: Some of the things we  discussed in the book, we have a 15 point set of suggestions in our last chapter, including

  1. Eliminating the electoral college. We are the only democracy in the world with the electoral college,
  2. Introducing term limits and retirement ages for the supreme court — we are the only democracy in the developed world that does not have term limits for judges.
  3. We also have proposals that do not require constitutional reform, like eliminating or weakening the filibuster. We are the only democracy in the world that has such a strong tool of obstruction in our chambers of congress. This often blocks majority supported policies, gun-control, efforts to address climate
    change, minimum-wage. Things get held up in the  national congress which frustrates citizens.
Regaining faith in the political system

These things could have a sweeping reform agenda. We have discovered that when constitutional reforms come, they tend to cluster together. People regain faith in their political system. This is part of the American tradition, whereas today we are operating outside the American tradition. This is something we need to get back to.

Woohoo! Voters in Ohio reject GOP-backed proposal that would have made it tougher to protect abortion rights

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: I’m in a rush to get this out and spread the good news so we’re missing some good pictures from the original article. I’ll drop them in soon.]

AP, by Julie Carr Smyth and Samantha Hendrickson, August 8, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio voters on Tuesday resoundingly rejected a Republican-backed measure that would have made it more difficult to change the state’s constitution, setting up a fall campaign that will become the nation’s latest referendum on abortion rights since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nationwide protections last year.

The defeat of Issue 1 keeps in place a simple majority threshold for passing future constitutional amendments. It would have raised that to a 60% supermajority, which supporters said would protect the state’s foundational document from outside interest groups.

Opposition to the proposal was widespread, even spreading into Republican territory. In fact, in early returns, support for the measure fell far short of former President Donald Trump’s performance during the 2020 election in nearly every county.

Dennis Willard, a spokesperson for the opposition campaign One Person One Vote, called Issue 1 a “deceptive power grab” that was intended to diminish the influence of the state’s voters.

“Tonight is a major victory for democracy in Ohio,” Willard told a jubilant crowd at the opposition campaign’s watch party. “The majority still rules in Ohio.”

A major national group that opposes abortion rights, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, called the result “a sad day for Ohio” while criticizing the outside money that helped the opposition — even though both sides relied on national groups and individuals in their campaigns.

While abortion was not directly on the special election ballot, the result marks the latest setback for Republicans in a conservative-leaning state who favor imposing tough restrictions on the procedure. Ohio Republicans placed the question on the summer ballot in hopes of undercutting a citizen initiative that voters will decide in November that seeks to enshrine abortion rights in the state.

Other states where voters have considered abortion rights since last year’s Supreme Court ruling have protected them, including in red states such as Kansas and Kentucky.

Interest in Ohio’s special election was intense, even after Republicans ignored their own law that took effect earlier this year to place the question before voters in August. Voters cast nearly 700,000 early in-person and mail ballots ahead of Tuesday’s final day of voting, more than double the number of advance votes in a typical primary election. Early turnout was especially heavy in the Democratic-leaning counties surrounding Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati.

One Person One Vote represented a broad, bipartisan coalition of voting rights, labor, faith and community groups. The group also had as allies four living ex-governors of the state and five former state attorneys general of both parties, who called the proposed change bad public policy.

In place since 1912, the simple majority standard is a much more surmountable hurdle for Ohioans for Reproductive Rights, the group advancing November’s abortion rights amendment. It would establish “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” with “reasonable limits.”

Eric Chon, a Columbus resident who voted against the measure, said there was a clear anti-abortion agenda to the election. Noting that the GOP voted just last year to get rid of August elections entirely due to low turnout for hyperlocal issues, Chon said, “Every time something doesn’t go their way, they change the rules.”

Voters in several states have approved ballot questions protecting access to abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, but typically have done so with less than 60% of the vote. AP VoteCast polling last year found that 59% of Ohio voters say abortion should generally be legal.

The result came in the very type of August special election that Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a candidate for U.S. Senate, had previously testified against as undemocratic because of historically low turnout. Republican lawmakers just last year had voted to mostly eliminate such elections, a law they ignored for this year’s election.

Al Daum, of Hilliard, just west of Columbus, said he didn’t feel the rules were being changed to undermine the power of his vote and said he was in favor of the special election measure. Along with increasing the threshold to 60%, it would mandate that any signatures for a constitutional amendment be gathered from all of Ohio’s 88 counties, not just 44.

It’s a change that Daum said would give more Ohio residents a chance to make their voices heard.

GOP lawmakers had cited possible future amendments related to gun control or minimum wage increases as reasons a higher threshold should be required.

Voters’ rejection of the proposal marked a rare rebuke for Ohio Republicans, who have held power across every branch of state government for 12 years.

A sign asking Ohioans to vote in support of Issue 1 sits above another sign advocating against abortion rights at an event hosted by Created Equal on July 20, 2023, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Orsagos, File)

Ohio Right to Life, the state’s oldest and largest anti-abortion group and a key force behind the special election measure, vowed to continue fighting into the fall.