February 21, 2013
By JULIE PACE | Associated Press
The Obama administration is quietly considering urging the Supreme Court to overturn California's ban on gay marriage, a step that would mark a political victory for advocates of same-sex unions and a deepening commitment by President Barack Obama to rights for gay couples.
Obama raised expectations among opponents of the Proposition 8 ban when he declared in last month's inaugural address that gays and lesbians must be "treated like anyone else under the law." The administration has until Feb. 28 to intervene in the case by filing a "friend of the court" brief.
The Proposition 8 ballot initiative was approved by California voters in 2008 and overturned a state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage. Twenty-nine other states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, while nine states and Washington, D.C., recognize same-sex marriage.
An administration brief alone is unlikely to sway the Justices but the federal government's opinion does carry weight with the court.
A final decision on whether to file a brief has not been made, a senior administration official said. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli is consulting with the White House on the matter, said the official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to address the private deliberations publicly.
While the Justice Department would formally make the filing, the president himself is almost certain to make the ultimate decision on whether to file.
Obama has a complicated history on gay marriage. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he opposed the California ban but didn't endorse gay marriage. As he ran for re-election last year, he announced his personal support for same-sex marriage but said marriage was an issue that should be decided by the states, not the federal government.
To some, Obama's broad call for gay rights during his Jan. 21 inaugural address was a signal that he now sees a federal role in defining marriage.
"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law," Obama said during his remarks on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. "For if we are truly created equal, than surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."
But administration officials said Obama — a former constitutional law professor — was not foreshadowing any legal action in his remarks and was simply restating his personal belief in the right of gays and lesbians to marry.
Seeking to capitalize on growing public support for gay marriage, advocates are calling on the administration to file a broad brief not only asking the court to declare California's ban unconstitutional but also urging the Justices to make all state bans illegal.
"If they do make that argument and the court accepts it, the ramifications could be very sweeping," said Richard Socarides, an attorney and advocate.
The administration could also file a narrower brief that would ask the court to issue a decision applying only to California. Or it could decide not to weigh in on the case at all.
The Supreme Court, which will take up the case on March 26, has several options for its eventual ruling. Among them:
— The justices could uphold the state ban on gay marriage and say citizens of a state have the right to make that call.
— The court could endorse an appeals court ruling that would make same-sex marriage legal in California but apply only to that state.
— The court could issue a broader ruling that would apply to California and seven other states: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island. In those states, gay couples can join in civil unions that have all the benefits of marriage but cannot be married.
— The broadest ruling would be one that says the Constitution forbids states from banning same-sex unions.
For weeks, supporters and opponents of Proposition 8 have been lobbying the administration to side with them.
Last month, Theodore Olson and David Boies, lawyers arguing for gay marriage, met with Verrilli and other government lawyers to urge the administration to file a brief in the case. A few days later, Charles Cooper, the lawyer defending Proposition 8, met with the solicitor general to ask the government to stay out of the case. Those kinds of meetings are typical in a high court case when the government is not a party and is not asked by the court to make its views known.
Boies and Chad Griffin, president of the advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, also had a meeting at the White House on the case.
Ahead of next week's deadline, nearly two dozen states have filed briefs with the Supreme Court asking the Justices to uphold the California measure.
"There's a critical mass of states that have spoken out and believe states should continue to have the right to define marriage as between one man and one woman," said Jim Campbell, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents supporters of Proposition 8.
Public opinion has shifted in support of gay marriage in recent years. In May 2008, Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans felt same-sex marriages should not be recognized by the law as valid. By November 2012, some 53 percent felt they should be legally recognized.
Obama has overwhelming political support among those who support same-sex marriage. Exit polls from the November election showed that 49 percent of voters believed their states should legally recognize gay marriage. More than 70 percent of those voters backed Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
One day after the court hears the California case, the justices will hear arguments on another gay marriage case, this one involving provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA. The act defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits.
The Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law in 2011 but continues to enforce it. Because DOMA is a federal law and the government is a party to the case, the administration does not have to state its opposition through a friend of the court brief.
February 21, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A man charged with slapping a toddler on a Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight is out of a job, his former employer said Sunday.
Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Hayden, Idaho, is no longer an employee of AGC Aerospace and Defense, Composites Group, Daniel Keeney of DPK Public Relations confirmed Sunday night.
Al Haase, president and CEO of AGC, issued a statement early Sunday that, while not referring to Hundley by name, called reports of behavior by one of its executives on recent personal travel "offensive and disturbing" and said he "is no longer employed with the company." Keeney would not say whether Hundley was fired or resigned. Hundley was president of AGC's Unitech Composites and Structures unit.
Hundley was charged last week in federal court in Atlanta with simple assault for allegedly slapping the boy during the Feb. 8 flight. His attorney, Marcia Shein, of Decatur, Ga., said Saturday that Hundley will plead not guilty. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail.
Shein did not immediately returned messages seeking comment left Sunday evening by The Associated Press. Hundley does not have a listed phone number.
The boy's mother, Jessica Bennett, 33, told the FBI their flight was on final descent into Atlanta when her son, who is now 19 months old, started to cry due to the altitude change. Hundley "told her to shut that (N-word) baby up," FBI special agent Daron Cheney said in a sworn statement. She said Hundley then slapped him in the face, scratching the boy below his right eye and causing him to scream even louder.
Bennett told Twin Cities television stations on Saturday that the incident has caused her family a great deal of trauma and that her son, Jonah, had been outgoing but had turned apprehensive of strangers.
Hundley became increasingly obnoxious and appeared intoxicated during the flight and complained that her son was too big to sit on her lap, she said.
"He reeked of alcohol," Bennett told KARE-TV. "He was belligerent, and I was uncomfortable."
Bennett said she was shocked by the racial slur she says Hundley used when Jonah started crying.
"And I said, 'What did you say?' because I couldn't believe that he would say that," she told WCCO-TV. "He fell onto my face and his mouth was in my ear and he said it again but even more hateful. And he's on my face, so I pushed him away."
Bennett and her husband are white, while Jonah, whom they adopted, is black.
"We wish to emphasize that the behavior that has been described is contradictory to our values, embarrassing and does not in any way reflect the patriotic character of the men and women of diverse backgrounds who work tirelessly in our business," Haase said in his statement.
February 21, 2013
By COREY WILLIAMS | Associated Press
The fiscal crisis plaguing Detroit is now in the hands of Michigan’s governor after a state-appointed review team determined the city was in a financial emergency with “no satisfactory plan” to resolve it.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has 30 days to decide if Detroit needs an emergency manager to take charge of its finances and spending, and come up with a new plan to get the city out of its financial mess.
After spending weeks looking at the city’s books, the independent review team released a report Tuesday saying Detroit’s deficit could have reached $900 million last fiscal year had it not borrowed enormous amounts of money. The city’s long-term liabilities, including underfunded pensions, are more than $14 billion.
The report also said the city’s bureaucratic structure makes it difficult to solve the financial problems.
Some fiscal experts believe the city's only way out may be municipal bankruptcy, but state Treasurer Andy Dillon said answers could be found if the city and state work together.
“It’s our hope at the state level that this is a partnership. It doesn’t have to be adversarial,” said Dillon, a member of the review team. “A lot of the ingredients for the turnaround of the city are in place. Now we just need to execute. I do believe strongly that Detroit is fixable.”
But over the last nine months, that relationship has been strained. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the nine-member City Council entered into a consent agreement with Snyder in April that allowed some state oversight and help with Detroit’s finances — short of cash infusions — in return for certain fiscal reforms. However, the city often missed deadlines and benchmarks.
The ongoing cash crisis has threatened to leave the city, which has a current budget deficit of $327 million, without money to pay its workers or other bills. Dillon said the city has been running deficits since 2005, and masking over them with long-term borrowing.
“I stand with Detroiters and other stakeholders that the pace of change has been frustratingly slow,” said Gary Brown, City Council president pro-tem. “The political will has often not been there to make the necessary and bold fiscal reforms. ... Without a doubt we need the support and accountability that a State of Michigan partnership offers. We cannot address our legacy obligations alone.”
Under state law, Snyder has 30 days following the review team's finding to decide for himself whether there’s a financial emergency. Bing would have 10 days to request a hearing. The first-term governor could then revoke his decision or appoint an emergency manager.
The emergency manager would be responsible for overseeing all of the city's spending. Bing and the City Council would keep their jobs, but the manager would decide all financial matters. And only the manager would have the power to authorize the city to take the bankruptcy route.
James McTevia, president of a Michigan-based firm that specializes in turnaround management, said an emergency manager could halt the city’s borrowing, freeze debt and restructure finances, including voiding contracts.
“The checkbook needs to be taken from the politicians,” he said.
However, others said that even with an emergency manager, municipal bankruptcy may be the city’s only option.
“Is it imminent? Well, not tomorrow,” said Doug Bernstein, managing partner of the Banking, Bankruptcy and Creditors’ Rights Practice Group for Michigan-based Plunkett Cooney law firm. “You need to give a financial manager the opportunity to formulate a plan and let the plan have a chance to succeed or fail. It may not avoid a bankruptcy, but you don’t need to do a bankruptcy today.”
Bing said Tuesday's report shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
“My administration has been saying for the past four years that the city is under financial stress,” Bing said in an emailed statement. “If the governor decides to appoint an emergency financial manager, he or she, like my administration, is going to need resources — particularly in the form of cash and additional staff.”
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor will carefully review the team’s report.
“He won’t make a determination immediately, but sooner rather than later,” she said. “The governor believes that a strong and successful Detroit is key to Michigan’s continued comeback.”
If Snyder appoints an emergency manager, Detroit would be the sixth and largest city in Michigan to have one. The cities of Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac, Flint and Allen Park are currently under state oversight. School districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights also have managers.
A new state law taking effect in late March gives local governments the chance to choose their own remedy when a review team finds a financial emergency exists. However, Detroit loses those options if an emergency manager is put in place before the new law goes into effect, said Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton.
The six-member review team began looking closely at Detroit’s books in mid-December. Another team had done the same about 12 months earlier, but stopped short of declaring a financial emergency. That team’s findings eventually led to the consent agreement in April.
February 21, 2013
By MICHELLE FAUL Associated Press
Academic and co-founder of South Africa's Black Conscious Movement, Mamphela Ramphele, announced the creation of a new political party Monday "to build the South Africa of our dreams," lambasting the 101-year-old African National Congress of Nelson Mandela for corruption and power abuse.
The 65-year-old medical doctor, who was close to activist Steve Biko before he was assassinated and bore him a son, told a news conference that her party will contest the 2014 elections, campaign "from village to village" and serve millions of South Africans "who have confirmed a hunger for a new beginning."
Her party joins several in the opposition at a time when South Africa is burdened by a growing chasm between rich and poor, as well as massive unemployment, and increasingly violent protests against job losses, utility shortages and an education and health system in crisis. She said Monday that she was appalled to learn that 71 percent of South Africans between the ages of 15 to 38 years are unemployed. That group, she said, makes up 60 percent of the population.
Ramphele, among four people appointed managing directors of The World Bank in 2000, has what South Africans call "struggle credentials." She was an anti-apartheid activist and domestic partner of Black Consciousness co-founder Biko, with whom she had a son. Ramphele spent seven years under house arrest enforced by the white-minority apartheid regime in the 1970s, and she used her expulsion to a remote rural area to start a health program and empower women through initiatives like growing vegetables.
But analysts say they don't know what she will bring to the political table, noting that her criticisms of the ANC are no different from those of several other opposition leaders, that she has no grass-roots support and is not well-known even in cities. The ANC party that fought a guerrilla war to liberate South Africans from apartheid has won resounding victories at past elections.
"The dream has faded for the many living in poverty and destitution in our increasingly unequal society," Ramphele said. "And perhaps worst of all, my generation has to confess to the young people of our country: We have failed you."
Ramphele said her party, called Agang in the Sesotho language meaning "Build," will be funded by South Africans at home and abroad. City Press reported that she had recently been on a fundraising trip abroad where she canvassed South African ambassadors.
She also criticized the government's foreign policy, saying South Africa has lost "moral authority and international respect" for taking positions on Zimbabwe, Sudan's Darfur province and Myanmar that flout the human rights principles of the constitution.
She also attacked the decision to refuse a visa to Tibet's exiled religious leader, the Dalai Lama, as "the surrender of our country's national sovereignty to appease foreign powers such as China."
Recently she has become a businesswoman, sitting on the boards of several companies including Anglo American Corp. and Gold Fields Limited. This makes her part of the small elite that has benefited from black empowerment programs, criticized for promoting ANC members and cronies.
Ramphele has drawn the ire of the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers for defending companies that want to lay off workers in the aftermath of violent and prolonged strikes that led to the police killings of at least 34 mine workers last year. She said it was better to lose jobs now and work on creating new high-tech jobs.
On Monday, Ramphele spoke of the need for reform and innovation in the mining sector that is a pillar of the South African economy, and said its reliance on migrant labor and large numbers of cheap, low-skilled workers is unsustainable.
The union had welcomed her resignation from Gold Fields last week, ahead of Monday's announcement. Spokesman Lesiba Seshoka told The Associated Press that in the five years she chaired the company "there has been no transformation, in fact we have seen the state of health and safety get worse."
Gold Fields spokesman Sven Lunsche denied that, saying the mine has had "safety issues" but the number of fatalities has consistently decreased.
Lunsche said Ramphele "has certainly put a focus on sustainable development and drove very hard at board level for everything from housing to investing in communities."
Like most miners in South Africa, many Gold Fields workers live in shacks. The company says on its website that it has reduced room density in its hostels to just over two to a room from six in 2006 in a major housing investment program. Ramphele's interest in the plight of people living in overcrowded hostels led her to start the Western Cape Men's Hostel Dwellers Association in the 1980s.
In 1988 she went to Harvard University as the Carnegie Distinguished International Fellow and wrote a doctorate of philosophy thesis based on her research at hostels. She later wrote a book about life in the migrant labor hostels.
February 21, 2013
Bernette Johnson was sworn in Friday February 15 as the first black chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, less than four months after her colleagues resolved a dispute over whether she was entitled to the position.
Johnson took the oath of office during a brief ceremony a day after her predecessor, Catherine “Kitty” Kimball, formally retired. A public ceremony marking her investiture is scheduled for February 28 on the courthouse steps in the French Quarter.
“After serving for 10 years as a district trial judge, and then as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, I feel well-prepared for the tasks ahead as the chief administrative officer of the judicial system of the state,” Johnson said in a statement. “I am ready to serve, and excited about the challenges of this new position.”
Johnson filed a federal lawsuit in July 2012 after her colleagues said they would debate whether she or Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is white, had the seniority that entitled them to succeed Kimball.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled in September that Johnson had more seniority, but stopped short of ordering the state’s highest court to name Johnson as Kimball’s successor.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ended the racially tinged power struggle in October, ruling that Johnson’s years of appointed service count when deciding which justice is “oldest in point of service” under the state constitution.
Voters elected Johnson in 1994 to the state appeals court, and she was assigned to the Supreme Court as part of settlement of an earlier lawsuit that claimed the system for electing justices diluted black voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She served an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans until the court reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was elected to the high court.
Victory joined the court in 1995, a year after Johnson, but said her years of appointed service shouldn’t count.
Johnson, Victory and a third judge who stood to be second-in-line if Victory’s argument prevailed were recused from debating the matter.