Archive for March 24, 2017

How Does Supreme Court Nominee Stand on Gun Control?

The late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called the misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public” that he had seen in his lifetime. In responding to questions from California Senator Dianne Feinstein during his confirmation hearing on March 21, Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, demonstrated that he was a party to that fraud. Please contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to oppose the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (Click on this link for contact information for your U.S. Senators.) For more information regarding Judge Gorsuch’s fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment during his confirmation hearing, please read on.

The Second Amendment states, in its entirety:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Prior to 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court had never ruled that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own guns. On the contrary, it had been repeatedly established in Supreme Court decisions, in decisions of lower courts, and in reviews by legal historians that the Second Amendment was intended to protect a collective right of the people to maintain armed state militias, such as the current day National Guard, not a right of individual citizens to own firearms. In particular, the Supreme Court ruled in 1939 in the case of U.S. v. Miller and reiterated in 1980 in Lewis v. United States that, “The Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.’”

In 2008, however, a narrow 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court reversed over 200 years of legal precedent by ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment did, indeed, confer an individual right to own guns, at least handguns of the type kept in the home “for protection.” The majority opinion in Heller, written by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, is internally contradictory and relies heavily on literature published in law journals over the past two decades by a small group of authors with direct ties to the gun lobby. Prior to the Lewis decision, it was virtually unheard of for any legal history expert to argue that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own guns.

Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision effectively deleted the phrase, “A well regulated militia” from the Second Amendment. In doing so, it opened the floodgates for a torrent of lawsuits challenging all sorts of gun control laws. Although handgun bans in Washington DC and Chicago were overturned, most other gun control laws, including bans on assault weapons, withstood post-Heller challenges.

In questioning Judge Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing, California Senator Dianne Feinstein asked him if he agreed that bans on civilian ownership of weapons such as M-16 rifles that are typically used in military service are consistent with Scalia’s majority opinion in the Heller decision. Gorsuch evaded answering the question directly.

Gorsuch: Senator, Heller makes clear the standard that we judges are supposed to apply. The question is whether it’s a gun in common use for self defense and that may be subject to reasonable regulation. That’s the task as I understand it. There’s lots of ongoing litigation about which weapons qualify under those standards and I can’t prejudge that litigation.

Feinstein: No, I’m just asking you do you agree with this statement, yes or no.
Gorsuch: The statements of, the, uh, Heller decision?
Feinstein: Justice Scalia’s statement.
Gorsuch: Whatever’s in Heller is the law, and I follow the law.
Feinstein: Do you agree?
Gorsuch: Well, it’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing, Senator, respectfully, it’s a matter of it being the law, and my job is to apply and enforce the law.

Judge Gorsuch clearly knows, or should know, that the 2008 Heller decision represented a radical reversal of the Court’s prior interpretation of the Second Amendment. He also knows, or should know, that courts have ruled post-Heller that bans on assault weapons do not violate the Second Amendment, but the gun lobby, which enthusiastically supported his nomination by Donald Trump, wants the Supreme Court to rule that civilian ownership of AR-15’s, the civilian version of the M-16 military assault rifle and currently the most popular gun in America, is protected by the Second Amendment. Finally, Gorsuch definitely knows that the Heller decision could be reversed by a change in a single justice on the Supreme Court, and that had Hillary Clinton become President instead of Donald Trump, she almost certainly would have nominated a Supreme Court Justice who would have tipped the balance on the Court and reversed the Heller decision.

In stating, “Whatever’s in Heller is the law, and I follow the law,” Gorsuch is endorsing what the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American public” that he had seen in his lifetime. In refusing to answer Senator Feinstein’s question concerning a ban on assault weapons, Gorsuch is also signaling that he would likely vote to expand the category of constitutionally protected firearms beyond handguns protected by Heller to include assault rifles such as the AR-15’s which are currently “in common use.”

It’s ironic that Gorsuch, like the late Antonin Scalia, claims to be an “originalist,” basing his decisions on the original intent of the framers of the constitution. In his introductory comments before his Senate confirmation hearing, he paid tribute to the late Antonin Scalia, stating: “He reminded us that words matter—that the judge’s job is to follow the words that are in the law—not replace them with words that aren’t.”

If words matter, then what is it about the phrase, “A well regulated militia,” that Neil Gorsuch doesn’t understand? And where in the Second Amendment does he find the words, “a gun in common use for self defense?”

Recognizing that Gorsuch was not going to give her a straight answer concerning whether he thought bans on assault weapons were consistent with the Heller decision, Senator Feinstein went on to ask him whether he agreed with Fourth Circuit Court Judge Harvey Wilkinson who wrote in the case of Kolbe v. Hogan that the Second Amendment was ambiguous and that the ambiguity should be resolved by legislators representing the people who were directly affected by gun violence, not by judges who were relatively insulated from it. Again, Gorsuch refused to give a straight answer.

Gorsuch: I begin by saying I hold Judge Wilkinson in high regard. He is a very fine man and a very fine judge.
Feinstein: Can you say yes or no?
Gorsuch: No, I’m, I wish I could, um, but…
Feinstein: I wish you could too.
Gorsuch: You know, the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t final because it’s infallible, as Justice Jackson reminds us. It’s infallible because it’s final. And, uh, Judge Wilkinson had his view, and the Supreme Court has spoken, and, and, Heller is the law of the land, and Judge Wilkinson may disagree with it and I understand that, um, and he may, but he will follow the law no less than any other judge in America. I am confident of that. Um, he’s a very fine judge who takes his oath seriously.

Gorsuch knows that the Supreme Court is neither infallible nor final. It’s not uncommon for the Supreme Court to reverse a previous ruling. According to the Government Accounting Office, the Supreme Court has issued rulings that overturned all or part of previous decisions on 236 occasions from 1810 through 2016. The 2008 Heller decision has been called by some legal scholars one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history. Heller may be the law of the land today, but Heller overturned the rulings in Miller in 1939 and Lewis in 1980. If confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice, Gorsuch himself could choose to be the deciding vote in overturning the radical Heller decision and in returning the Second Amendment to its original meaning. It’s clear from his answers to Senator Feinstein’s questions, though, that Gorsuch does not intend to do so.

The issue of the Second Amendment is only one of many on which Judge Neil Gorsuch refused to provide a straight answer to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two days of confirmation hearings. His evasive answers on the Second Amendment alone, though, along with his endorsement of a fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to own guns, are reason enough to deny him a position on the Supreme Court. Please contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to oppose the appointment of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thanks for your support of Americans Against Gun Violence and our efforts to stop the shameful epidemic of firearm related deaths and injuries that afflicts our country. If you haven’t already done so, please become a paid member and consider making an additional donation if you’re able. Please also visit the Facts and FAQ’s page of the Americans Against Gun Violence website to learn about other actions that you can take right now to help stop gun violence.

We can’t call ourselves a great nation until the day when rates of firearm related deaths and injuries in our country are at or below the rates in other high income democratic countries. In order to achieve that goal, we must reverse the fraudulent misrepresentation of the Second Amendment in the Heller decision and adopt stringent gun control laws comparable to the laws that have long been in place in every other high income democratic country of the world. I look forward to working with you to make that day come sooner rather than later.

Bill Durston, MD
President, Americans Against Gun Violence

Reaching Out to Muslims

The American River Democrats welcomed Yannini Casillas, a representative from CAIR—the Council on American-Islamic Relations—to their March meeting. Ms. Casillas spoke about pre-conceptions, misconceptions, and the nature of Muslims in the U.S. and around the world, and Senate Bill 31, the California Religious Freedom Act.

Yannini Casillas speaks to the American River Democrats

Casillas opened her talk with “Islam 101.” She said that the Islamic faith is very diverse, and that the largest percentage of Muslims are Asian, with Indonesians being the greatest number. She said the media does a poor job covering the Islamic faith, and that there is a big difference between certain cultures and the Islamic religion. ISIS does not represent Muslims any more that the Ku Klux Klan represents Christians.

Muslims are largely peaceful and diverse, and will adapt to the culture they belong to. The tenants of their faith are prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage. They believe you cannot force anyone to do anything; it is the “hand, tongue, and heart” that will guide people to social justice on earth. Women have rights as well, and repression seen in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan reflect their culture, not the religion. When asked about LGBT rights, she said that everything is between the individual and God; that Muslims are to respect the human, and it is not okay to hurt anyone.

Casillas said that CAIR is working hard fighting the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. She pointed out that even people like Muhammad Ali Jr., the American-born son of the world famous boxer, was detained and questioned by officials. CAIR is training people on their rights, and working with law enforcement officials to fight harassment and vandalism against Muslims.

Particularly concerning are actions by the FBI. There are over 100 cases in California alone of agents coming to investigate Muslim people at their homes and workplaces. They are fishing for terrorist leads, and intimidating people to provide information, threatening to report uncooperative people to ICE agents.

California Senate Bill 31, authored by Ricardo Lara, prohibits state or local agencies from providing or disclosing to federal authorities information regarding a person’s religious affiliation for use in a national database. Though such a database would apply to all religions, the target is clearly Muslims. (Though, of course, any group, including Jews, Hindus, or atheists, could be next.) The bill requires a two-thirds majority vote, but fortunately enjoys some bipartisan support, with a Republican listed as a co-author. It passed two committees unanimously and, as of this writing, awaits a Senate floor vote, before moving to the Assembly. (It requires a two-thirds majority vote because it is an “Urgency Bill” which will take effect immediately on passing.) Casillas encouraged everyone to contact their state representatives to support this bill.

How else can you help? Get to know your Muslim neighbors! Visit an Islamic center, like The Islamic Society of Folsom, and meet the people there. (I have a friend who is a Christian pastor and visits the center on a regular basis, and finds it quite rewarding.) And watch out for hate incidents against Muslims, or any people of a different culture. Women are more often victims of these crimes because they are usually more visible due to their dress. Report these incidents and intervene if possible. If you see a stranger, especially someone who may be from another culture or religion, smile and say hello!

Ken Kiunke, Communications Secretary

Report from Ami Bera Town Hall

Recently Louise Lopez attended Ami Bera’s Community Engagement Forum, and shared this report on the Moms (and Friends) on the Left Facebook page.

Congressman Bera addresses the crowd at his community forum. (Twitter – @RepBera)

March 11, 2017

Following topics were covered as responses to questions that were asked of Ami Bera.

1) Investigation of Russian Interference in the Election

Bera’s response: We need to protect the integrity of our democracy with an independent investigation. The congressman supports the Protect Our Democracy Bill which calls for such an independent investigation of Russian interference.

2) Travel Ban

Bera’s response: Co-sponsored the bill opposing the first Muslim Ban and is co-sponsoring the bill which opposes the Muslim Ban 2.0. This ban provides the wrong message to the world. It is dangerous and is also causing an increase in hate crimes at home.

3) President’s conflicts of interest

Bera’s response: A resounding ‘yes’ to an investigation. We need to ask for his tax returns.

4) Format for Town Halls (a Town Hall where he is the only speaker)

Bera’s response: Has held regular Town Halls from his first term. He started out as the sole speaker, but found that questions were often posed that would be better directed to others—State Assembly Persons or local city council members, for example. So he began inviting others respond to specific questions along with him. He has no problem with holding some meetings with no one else present on stage.

5) Is Donald Trump mentally ill?

Bera’s response: We should keep in mind that Donald Trump legally won this election via the Electoral College. He does not want the presidency or the government to fail. Bera is, however, concerned about Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, both before and after the campaign. Trump should listen carefully to his own words. The president also needs to step up: Post-9/11, President Bush visited a mosque. Trump is doing nothing along those lines to speak out against hate crimes. Also, “Someone needs to take his Twitter account away.” We are not the only ones reading his tweets, they become front page news in foreign countries as well and are cause for concern among our allies. Also, with regard to foreign countries, Bera is concerned about the diminished role that foreign diplomatic policy is being given by this administration while the military is being built up at diplomacy’s expense. When pressed on the question as to Trump’s mental health, Bera did say he felt Trump was a narcissist.

6) Rising Cost of Health Care

Bera’s response: Bera has publically rejected the current Republican bill, the AHCA. There are two things a federal health care plan should address: access and cost. The original ACA addressed access, but did not change the cost structure. The thought was to address this as well after initial passage, but the Republican majority’s complete opposition made this impossible previously. We don’t want to take away access, but we do need to find a way to make health care more affordable. We also need to address the cost of prescription drugs. The president should be bringing us together to work on these issues. Presently, we need to continue to protect the 20 million people who have gained healthcare under Obamacare as well as looking at cost. We have a good example of a successful plan in Medicare—this is a system that works well for older people and we should be talking about how to get younger people to be able to buy into this type of health care. Bera returned to the topic of health care later in the meeting with the following comments: He stands firmly with Planned Parenthood. It is disappointing to have an exchange with only 1 option. This creates a monopoly, not competition. To be viable, younger folks need to participate. Allowing people under 26 to remain on their parent’s policy is an example of this. We need to expand the possibilities by expanding different options.

7) Gun Violence and the Gun Lobby

Bera’s response: The majority of Democrats and Republicans– -at least those not in Congress—can find common ground with regards to gun laws. This is not about repealing the Second Amendment, it’s about keeping our communities safe. People with a history of violent criminal activity including domestic violence, as well as mental illness should not be able to easily acquire weapons. To that end, Bera supports background checks and a waiting period before a gun can be obtained. We should all be contacting members of congress regarding this issue.

8) HR 1215, which would limit the right to sue in Elder Abuse cases and negate California laws already on the books.

Bera’s response: Bera was not familiar with this bill and will look into it.

9) Stance on Refugees and Sanctuary Cities (this question seemed to reference votes which were not in support of these issues during previous terms).

Bera’s response: He is not against refugees. These are people in need of our help. With regards to illegal immigrants: police officers, nurses, and teachers should not be working as immigration officers. Children shouldn’t be living in fear that their parents may not be there when they get home. He did vote against a specific Sanctuary City bill because he does feel that illegal aliens who are criminals should be held by local agencies for deportation.

10) How can we achieve our objectives when Republicans control the majority of the Senate, Congress and the Presidency?

Bera’s response: As a result of the recent election, people are coming out from all over the country and speaking out. We need to continue making our voices heard. There will be elections this year as well as in 2018 and 2020. If we don’t show up and vote, we lose our voice.

10) Climate Change

Bera’s response: Climate change is real. As a member of the Science and Technology Commission, he will fight to protect the EPA. He noted that the EPA had being scrambling to save data out of concern that it could disappear. He lauds the return of investigative journalism as also having a positive effect in this area. He will fight to protect California’s climate laws.

11) What can be done to better represent the middle class?

Bera’s response: We cannot just be a party of opposition, we need to be a party that stands for something. To that end, we need to maintain a strong public education system. We need to provide an affordable college education, this is a forming of paying it forward. We need to create jobs which pay decent wages. We need to figure out how to rebuild trade and manufacturing jobs. An example would be coding technology. We’re not teaching our kids how to code but other countries are. We should also focus on America’s infrastructure, but we also need to teach kids these skill sets. It would be a good idea to bring instruction of vocational skills back to high schools.

Note: *At this point he also stated he was against school vouchers. This would only take away from public schools which all children already have access to.

12) Deregulation of Wall Street

Bera’s response: Will vote against the repeal of Dodd Frank. He will also fight against assaults on the media and gives them kudos for the job they are doing.

12) Why don’t you partner with local progressive groups?

Bera’s response: Because he is responsible for representing all 720,000 members of his district, it would be inappropriate to do so. He is willing to come as a private person to speak to various groups, according to his availability.

13) Hate crimes/hate speech

Bera’s response: We will do what we can to fight back. When this occurs in schools, schools need to figure out a way to deal with it. Incidents need to be reported and CARE as well as other groups can help with diversity training and instruction on how to push back against bullying.

At the end of the allotted time, Bera made these additional statements, not in response to specific questions:

Democrats and Republicans must come together. Different states may have different challenges, but we still must come together. With consideration to executive orders, if Republicans hated them when Obama made them, they should hate Trump making them as well. The founders designed the legislative branch to be the strongest—this is where our laws should be coming from. The job is to negotiate, debate and find a middle ground so that we can move forward. Otherwise, we will be stuck in a cyclical back-and-forth and stay the same.

Our thanks to Louise for this great report, and all who showed up to let Congressman Bera how we feel and how much we care!

(Note: Louise Lopez is not a currently a member or affiliated with the American River Democrats.)