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Supreme Court Cases: Gay Rights, Gun Rights and Native Rights

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This year at the Supreme Court: Gay rights, gun rights and Native rights

By Morgan Marietta for the Conversation

The Supreme Court begins its annual session on Oct. 7 and will take up a series of cases likely to have political reverberations in the 2020 elections.

Major cases this year address the immigration program for young people (“Dreamers”) known as DACA , the Affordable Care Act (again) and public money for religious schools.

Justices will also consider cases that involve several aspects of defendants’ rights: whether criminal convictions require a unanimous jury, minors can be given a life sentence and a state can abolish the insanity defense.

Some of the most important rulings will address the recognition of rights by the conservative court: gay rights, gun rights and Native rights.

These cases focus on perhaps the deepest divide on the court: Should the justices base their rulings on the contemporary meaning of words in our laws (or in the Constitution itself) as the public understanding of those concepts changes over time?

Or should they insist that our laws can only be changed from their original meaning by the country’s democratic representatives, who are directly accountable to the people?

Gay rights

The justices will consider three cases on LGBT employment rights.

Gerald Bostock was fired by Clayton County, Georgia, because he is gay. Donald Zarda was fired from his job as a tandem sky-dive instructor for being gay (before his death in a BASE-jumping accident). Aimee Stephens transitioned from male to female identity and was fired from her job as a funeral director.

These cases turn on one word’s meaning: the word “sex” in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Does “sex” mean what legislators thought it meant when the law was passed, barring discrimination against women? Or should it be interpreted more broadly now to mean discrimination against any aspect of sexuality?

Gun rights

It has been almost a decade since the court recognized a fundamental right for individual citizens to bear arms. That case was MacDonald v. Chicago, from the city with the highest total number of gun deaths in the nation.

Since that time, the looming question has been what sort of restrictions would be considered constitutional.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City puts this question to the test. Licensed gun owners were prevented from transporting firearms outside of their homes, even to a second home or to a shooting competition outside the city.

The court must decide if this is a reasonable regulation that leaves the essential right to bear arms intact.

In the midst of growing concern over mass shootings, the ruling may have ramifications for future attempts at gun regulations.

To raise the political stakes even further, five U.S. senators in their now infamous “enemy-of-the-Court” brief threaten that if the court does not dismiss the case, the Senate will have to consider adding more justices to the court in an attempt to shift its partisan balance, known as “packing the Court.”

Native rights

The least-known but potentially most important case of the year is not about widely-discussed gay rights or gun rights, but about Native rights.

Sharp v. Murphy began as a dispute over jurisdiction in a murder prosecution. But it has become a potentially influential case about who represents the rightful government of Eastern Oklahoma.

The historic reservations of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Nations comprise 40% of Oklahoma land. These tribes were forcibly removed from the eastern U.S. to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1830’s, some making the journey along the infamous Trail of Tears.

Since then, parts of their reservation land have been seized by the state government or sold to private citizens, so they are no longer part of the reservation. This includes the city of Tulsa.

The argument in the case is that according to the original treaties the petitioners are asking the court to uphold, those lands are rightfully still under the government of the tribes. What exactly this means in terms of ownership and governance is unclear.

This may at first appear to be a small case about a piece of the American West. But if the Native rights claim is recognized by the court, it may also apply in later cases to a surprisingly large proportion of the United States that was once “Indian country” under official treaties.

That is why 10 states filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against the Native rights claim.

A map submitted as an exhibit in the Supreme Court case about the boundaries of tribal reservations in Oklahoma. Supreme Court

Bigger implications

The Native rights claims at issue are not individual rights of the type the U.S. Constitution generally contemplates. They are rights held by an ethnic group. The question of who belongs to the group – and hence has access to the group right – is a divisive one because any answer includes some members while excluding others who claim the same identity.

It also is reminiscent of another proposed group right that is being debated in American politics: reparations. This summer the U.S. Congress held contentious hearings to discuss possible payments as reparations for slavery.

But payments to whom? Both Native Americans and African Americans share a distinct problem yet to be solved: how to determine who is a member of the group.

So in the case of reparations: Would they be paid only to direct descendants of slaves? To all African American descendants no matter when their progenitors arrived in the U.S.? To all people who have any black ancestors regardless of their current status or wealth?

Many Native tribes use what’s called the “blood quantum” approach, which forces individuals to document their lineage and proportional ancestry to prove membership. But scholars in this area argue that this approach is fraught with complications in many contexts.

Election 2020

Democratic presidential hopefuls have already grappled with questions around tribal membership and the country’s history of racism. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has dealt with a damaging controversy over her claims to Native American ancestry. Former Vice President Joe Biden has come under fire for his earlier opposition to reparations.

In terms of both legal and political influence, Sharp v. Murphy is a case with potentially major ramifications. And with the combined focus on politically divisive issues like gay rights, gun rights and Native rights, this year’s docket is likely to have an unusually strong presence in the 2020 campaigns.


Morgan Marietta is an Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Celebrity News

Anderson Cooper Reveals He’s a Dad, Welcomes New Baby Boy

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Anderson Cooper Reveals He's a Dad, Welcomes New Baby Boy

NEW YORK CITY (TMZ) — Anderson Cooper is the proud new father of a baby boy … revealing Wyatt Morgan Cooper to the world.

The CNN anchor took to Instagram Thursday night to reveal earlier this week Wyatt was born via surrogate. Cooper said, “As a gay kid, I never thought it would be possible to have a child, and I’m grateful for all those who have paved the way, and for the doctors and nurses and everyone involved in my son’s birth.”

As for Wyatt’s name, 52-year-old says it’s in honor of his dad, who passed away when he was just 10, saying, “I hope I can be as good a dad as he was.”

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I want to share with you some joyful news. On Monday, I became a father. This is Wyatt Cooper. He is three days old. He is named after my father, who died when I was ten. I hope I can be as good a dad as he was. My son's middle name is Morgan. It's a family name on my mom's side. I know my mom and dad liked the name morgan because I recently found a list they made 52 years ago when they were trying to think of names for me. Wyatt Morgan Cooper. My son. He was 7.2 lbs at birth, and he is sweet, and soft, and healthy and I am beyond happy. As a gay kid, I never thought it would be possible to have a child, and I’m grateful for all those who have paved the way, and for the doctors and nurses and everyone involved in my son's birth. Most of all, I am grateful to a remarkable surrogate who carried Wyatt, and watched over him lovingly, and tenderly, and gave birth to him. It is an extraordinary blessing – what she, and all surrogates give to families who cant have children. My surrogate has a beautiful family of her own, a wonderfully supportive husband, and kids, and I am incredibly thankful for all the support they have given Wyatt and me. My family is blessed to have this family in our lives I do wish my mom and dad and my brother, Carter, were alive to meet Wyatt, but I like to believe they can see him. I imagine them all together, arms around each other, smiling and laughing, happy to know that their love is alive in me and in Wyatt, and that our family continues.

A post shared by andersoncooper (@andersoncooper) on

Anderson also shared a sweet message about his surrogate, saying, “Most of all, I am grateful to a remarkable surrogate who carried Wyatt, and watched over him lovingly, and tenderly, and gave birth to him. It is an extraordinary blessing – what she, and all surrogates give to families who cant have children.”

Finally, Anderson says, “I do wish my mom and dad and my brother, Carter, were alive to meet Wyatt, but I like to believe they can see him. I imagine them all together, arms around each other, smiling and laughing, happy to know that their love is alive in me and in Wyatt, and that our family continues.” His mother, Gloria Vanderbilt died last year.

Wyatt is Anderson’s first child … Congrats!!

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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Mister Rogers Told Co-Star Don’t Come Out as Gay, and Marry a Woman

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Mister Rogers Told Co-Star Don't Come Out as Gay, and Marry a Woman

(TMZ) — “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was no place for gay people … so says one of the stars.

Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons from 1968 – 1995, says in his new memoir, Fred Rogers got wind of the fact Clemmons was gay, pulled him aside and said, “Franc, you have talents and gifts that set you apart and above the crowd. Someone has informed us that you were seen at the local gay bar downtown. Now, I want you to know, Franc, that if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter to me at all.”

And, then the other shoe dropped … “Whatever you say and do is fine with me, but if you’re going to be on the show as an important member of the ‘Neighborhood,’ you can’t be out as gay.”

Clemmons told People Rogers told him secrecy was the only way … “You must do this Francois … because it threatens my dream,” adding, “I was destroyed. The man who was killing me had also saved me. He was my executioner and deliverer. But, at the same time, I knew that he would know how to comfort me.”

According to Clemmons, whose memoir is titled, “Officer Clemmons,” Rogers also told him the audience didn’t care who he was sleeping with … “especially if it’s a man.”

And, there’s more … according to Clemmons, Rogers urged him to marry a woman, and he obliged. Clemmons married La-Tanya Mae Sheridan. They divorced in 1974 and later Clemmons came out.

He says he forgives the legendary TV host … “Lord have mercy, yes. I forgive him. More than that, I understand. I relied on the fact that this was his dream. He had worked so hard for it. I knew Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was his whole life.”

Tune in to TMZ on TV weekdays Monday through Friday (check syndicated/local listings)

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Celebrity News

Miley Cyrus Says She Left Christian Church Over ‘Anti-LGBTQ’ Beliefs

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(Los Angeles Blade) — Miley Cyrus has revealed that she turned away from her Christian church as a teen because of its anti-LGBTQ beliefs.

The 27-year-old singer, who came out as pansexual in 2015, made the disclosure during her new Instagram Live talk show, “Bright Minded,” as part of an interview with model Hailey Beiber, who is the daughter of actor (and conservative Christian activist) Stephen Baldwin and the wife of pop star Justin Beiber.

When the conversation turned to the subject of religion, Beiber told Cyrus she had found her own relationship with God had changed as an adult, becoming a personal one in which she was free to find a spirituality and a church “that worked for me.”

At this point […]

Continue reading at www.losangelesblade.com

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