Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gov. Hutchinson appoints three to select panel to rule on state gay-marriage ban

'Gay agenda' foe selected to hear nuptials spinoff

2 others also named to pick justices to decide main case

Posted: April 15, 2015 at 3:48 a.m.
Updated: April 15, 2015 at 3:48 a.m.
Current 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home
Current 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday appointed a former Republican legislator and self-proclaimed opponent of the "gay agenda" as one of the three special justices set to participate in deciding which Arkansas Supreme Court justices will rule on a challenge to the state's gay-marriage ban.
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Attorney Cheryl Maples, left, and her colleague attorney Jack Wagoner leave federal court in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Nov...(By: DANNY JOHNSTON)(Credit: AP)
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Supreme Court Chief Justice Betty Dickey of Heber Springs(By: Staton Breidenthal) (Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
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Searcy attorney Brett Watson(Credit: Special to the Democrat-Gazette)
Hutchinson appointed a former state senator, current 14th Judicial Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, to take the place of Justice Paul Danielson in ruling on CV-15-227, a spinoff case created to resolve a dispute over whether last year's court or this year's lineup should rule on the gay-marriage ban challenge.
That challenge, known as CV-14-427, has languished without a ruling for nearly five months while the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the question later this month.
To fill the three vacancies on the case, two of which were created by the recusals of Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Danielson, who accused other justices of creating CV-15-227 to delay a ruling on the gay-marriage challenge, Hutchinson also appointed two others.
Hutchinson tapped Searcy attorney Brett Watson to fill in for Hannah and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Betty Dickey of Heber Springs to replace first-year Justice Rhonda Wood.
Womack has been a judge in Mountain Home since his 2008 election, but in 2007, the then-state senator sponsored legislation meant to ban homosexuals from being able to adopt or foster children.
Senate Bill 959 by Womack said the legislation would counter the "gay agenda" and protect children. During debate on the Senate floor, a Democratic colleague asked Womack whether he was gay. Womack described himself as "proudly heterosexual."
On Tuesday, Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said that the governor was not worried about Womack's political past clouding his ability to be an impartial judge.
"The governor based his decision on Judge Womack's judicial experience and not his legislative history," Davis said.
An official at Womack's office said Womack was not available for an interview.
The employee did send out a statement on Womack's behalf:
"I want to express my appreciation to Governor Hutchinson for selecting me to participate in this important process," Womack wrote. "I am very humbled and grateful for the trust he is placing in me to decide this case."
Cheryl Maples, the attorney who, in 2013, first challenged the state's 2004 constitutional amendment and preceding statute that both barred same-sex marriage, said she thought Hutchinson erred by appointing a judge with a well-documented aversion to gay rights.
"The rules of governing judicial conduct require that there not be any perception of a conflict of interest [for a judge]," she said. "[Womack's] history of taking a place adverse to any one party in this action would definitely be a perceived conflict of interest if not an absolute conflict of interest."
Maples said she thought that Womack should decline the appointment or recuse himself.
Maples and fellow attorney Jack Wagoner were successful in their challenge in May when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down the state's gay-marriage ban as unconstitutional.
The ruling was stayed after several hundred same-sex couples were wed in the state and the case proceeded to oral arguments at the Arkansas Supreme Court on Nov. 20.
The attorneys and other legal experts including former Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel expected the case to be decided before the end of last year.
It wasn't.
In late January, the state's new attorney general, Republican Leslie Rutledge, requested a new round of oral arguments for the benefit of the court's two new members, justices Wood and Robin Wynne.
Plaintiffs' attorneys argued that the case should be decided by the justices who heard the case the first time, including now retired Justice Donald Corbin and Special Justice Robert McCorkindale.
McCorkindale was appointed to hear the case by former Gov. Mike Beebe after former Justice Cliff Hoofman recused himself in September.
But state attorneys argued that it was Wood and Wynne who should ultimately rule on CV-14-427.
At the start of this month, the high court created CV-15-227 to handle the question, only to see the two most veteran justices recuse themselves from a case that they said was manufactured to address a legal controversy that did not exist.
In their recusal letters, both justices accused other members of the court of delaying justice in allowing a ruling on CV-14-427, and Hannah argued that to displace McCorkindale would be to "usurp" the former governor's decision and would amount to judicial overreach.
After the letters were released, a gay-rights activist filed a complaint with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission to investigate whether justices intentionally delayed the legal proceedings and to see if those delays were politically motivated.
Plaintiffs have withdrawn any objections to the current court hearing the case because they want to expedite a ruling.
Asked why she thought Womack's appointment presented a problem, since he wasn't ruling directly on the gay-marriage question, Maples said that his ruling on who decides could effectively decide the case on its own.
"There's an apparent push by some judges to seat judges with a particular political persuasion, at least, that's the way this is appearing," Maples said. "By seating this particular judge, it would seem that [Hutchinson] is stacking the court against us. I don't think that is constitutionally permissible and it flies in the face of the rules of judicial conduct."
Rutledge, in a statement, said she was glad to hear of the appointments.
"Governor Hutchinson indicated that he would move quickly to appoint three special justices in this case, and I am pleased that he has done so. Any individual appointed as a special judge or justice must give deliberation to ensure justice is served in every case," she said.
While Womack unsuccessfully pushed for a ban on gay adoptions in 2007, another of Hutchinson's appointees, Dickey, ruled against a similar state policy a year before.
Dickey was the first woman chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court after Gov. Mike Huckabee appointed her to the position in 2003. In 2006, she joined a unanimous opinion that struck down a similar ban by a state agency.
In 1997, the Child Welfare Agency Review Board, a group of governor appointees that sets policies for child-welfare agencies, enacted a rule that barred gays from adopting in the state.
The state Department of Human Services followed that policy. But in 2006, the Arkansas Supreme Court found the rule violated the separation of powers doctrine, finding there was no connection between a foster child's well-being and the sexual orientation of a parent figure.
Womack's legislation was filed in direct response to that ruling, and, though it failed, the idea succeeded as an initiated act passed by popular vote in 2008.
That act was then invalidated by the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2011.
Before sitting on the state's highest court, Dickey, a Republican, was a prosecutor in Pine Bluff and lost to former U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor in the 1998 race for the attorney general's office.
Attempts to reach her by phone were unsuccessful Tuesday.
The third appointee, Watson, has run his own firm since 2011.
Although there was no answer at his firm Tuesday afternoon, Watson's website says that he is a graduate of the Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and that he began private practice in 2003.
He has a wide range of litigation experience and is admitted to practice in both of Arkansas' federal courts as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.
While Arkansans wait for the state's highest court to move forward, a challenge to the state ban is on appeal at the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A week after hearing oral arguments late last November, U.S. Eastern District of Arkansas District Judge Kristine Baker ruled that the state's laws on same-sex marriages were unconstitutional.
The U.S. Supreme Court, meanwhile, is set to take oral arguments on the constitutionality of similar same-sex marriage bans.
The court is expected to render a verdict by the end of its spring session sometime in late June.
Metro on 04/15/2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

How corporations brought 'In God we trust' to public use

How 'One Nation' Didn't Become 'Under God' Until The '50s Religious Revival

The words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase "In God we trust" on the back of a dollar bill haven't been there as long as most Americans might think. Those references were inserted in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, the same decade that the National Prayer Breakfast was launched, according to writer Kevin Kruse. His new book is One Nation Under God.
In the original Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy made no mention of God, Kruse says. Bellamy was Christian socialist, a Baptist who believed in the separation of church and state.
"As this new religious revival is sweeping the country and taking on new political tones, the phrase 'one nation under God' seizes the national imagination," Kruse tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It starts with a proposal by the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic lay organization, to add the phrase 'under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance. Their initial campaign doesn't go anywhere but once Eisenhower's own pastor endorses it ... it catches fire."
Kruse's book investigates how the idea of America as a Christian nation was promoted in the 1930s and '40s when industrialists and business lobbies, chafing against the government regulations of the New Deal, recruited and funded conservative clergy to preach faith, freedom and free enterprise. He says this conflation of Christianity and capitalism moved to center stage in the '50s under Eisenhower's watch.
"According to the conventional narrative, the Soviet Union discovered the bomb and the United States rediscovered God," Kruse says. "In order to push back against the atheistic communism of the Soviet Union, Americans re-embraced a religious identity. That plays a small role here, but ... there's actually a longer arc. That Cold War consensus actually helps to paper over a couple decades of internal political struggles in the United States. If you look at the architects of this language ... the state power that they're worried most about is not the Soviet regime in Moscow, but rather the New Deal and Fair Deal administrations in Washington, D.C."

Kevin Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University and is the author of a previous book called White Flight.i
Kevin Kruse is a professor of history at Princeton University and is the author of a previous book called White Flight.
Etta Recke/Courtesy of Basic Books

Interview Highlights

On how corporations hired ministers to spread "free enterprise"
The New Deal had passed a large number of measures that were regulating business in some ways for the first time, and it [had] empowered labor unions and given them a voice in the affairs of business. Corporate leaders resented both of these moves and so they launched a massive campaign of public relations designed to sell the values of free enterprise. The problem was that their naked appeals to the merits of capitalism were largely dismissed by the public.
The most famous of these organizations was called The American Liberty League and it was heavily financed by leaders at DuPont, General Motors and other corporations. The problem was that it seemed like very obvious corporate propaganda. As Jim Farley, the head of the Democratic Party at the time, said: "They ought to call it The American Cellophane League, because No. 1: It's a DuPont product, and No. 2: You can see right through it."
So when they realized that making this direct case for free enterprise was ineffective, they decided to find another way to do it. They decided to outsource the job. As they noted in their private correspondence, ministers were the most trusted men in America at the time, so who better to make the case to the American people than ministers?
On the message the ministers conveyed
They use these ministers to make the case that Christianity and capitalism were soul mates. This case had been made before, but in the context of the New Deal it takes on a sharp new political meaning. Essentially they argue that Christianity and capitalism are both systems in which individuals rise and fall according to their own merits. So in Christianity, if you're good you go to heaven, if you're bad you go to hell. In capitalism if you're good you make a profit and you succeed, if you're bad you fail.
The New Deal, they argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God's will, but rather, a form of pagan stateism and is inherently sinful.
On the Rev. James Fifield
He takes over the pastorate at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles, an elite church, literally ministering to millionaires in his pews. It's got some of the town's most wealthy citizens — the mayor attends service there, [Hollywood filmmaker] Cecil B. DeMille. He tells these millionaires what they want to hear, which is that their worldly success is a sign of heavenly blessing. He has a very loose approach to the Bible. He says that reading the Bible should be like eating fish: We take out the bones to enjoy the meat; all parts are not of equal value. Accordingly, he disregarded Christ's many injunctions about the dangers of wealth, and instead preached a philosophy that wedded capitalism to Christianity.
On Fifield's "spiritual mobilization"
"Spiritual mobilization" is his effort to recruit other ministers to the cause. So he is serving, in many ways, as a frontman for a number of corporate leaders. His main sponsors are Sun Oil President J. Howard Pew, Alfred Sloan of General Motors, the heads of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, they all heavily fund this organization. But what Fifield sets out to do is recruit other ministers to his cause. Within the span of just a decade's time, he has about 17,000 so-called minister representatives who belong to the organization who are literally preaching sermons on its Christian libertarian message to their congregations, who are competing in sermon contest[s] for cash prizes and they're doing all they can in their local communities to spread this message that the New Deal is essentially evil, it's a manifestation of creeping socialism that is rotting away the country from within. Instead they need to rally around business leaders and make common cause with them to defend what they call "the American way of life."
On Fifield's contribution to the alliance between business and Christian leaders
He helps refine the message considerably. He comes up with the phrase that reduces this Christian libertarian ideology down to a catchy slogan and that slogan is "Freedom Under God," as opposed to the slavery of the state. He popularizes this using the generous funding of his corporate backers ... through a weekly radio program that soon appears on over 800 stations nationwide, through monthly magazines that popularizes the writings of libertarian and conservative authors and most importantly, I think, through a massive Fourth of July ceremony in 1951, a ceremony organized by Cecil B. DeMille, featuring James Stewart as the master of ceremonies, and carried live coast-to-coast over national radio. In that ceremony, as in the magazine and the weekly radio show, he promotes this message that freedom under God is an essential value; that Americans need to cast off the slavery of the state and instead embrace a rugged individualism.
On "In God we trust" appearing on coins and stamps
So the phrase "In God we trust" comes from an often forgotten stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner. It goes: "Then conquer we must when our cause it is just, and this be our motto — 'In God is our trust.' " That stanza was largely forgotten until the Civil War when that phrase "In God we trust" is plucked out of that line and placed on coins. And it is done so at the urging of religious leaders who believe the Civil War has come as a result of America's original sin, of not officially being founded as a Christian nation. And they ask the secretary of Treasury to correct that and he does so by placing it on coins.
The phrase appears on coins intermittently over the next 50 or 60 years. Theodore Roosevelt tries to have it removed — he believes it's close to sacrilege — but the public outcry prevents him from doing so. During this moment of the Eisenhower years, the phrase flourishes and it does so first when it's placed on a stamp in 1954. Then [in] 1955, Congress decides to add it to not just coins but to paper money. And in 1956, they move to make it the country's first official national motto.
On the use of "God bless America" in presidential speeches
President Reagan is the innovator when it comes to the use of "God bless America." A study by communication scholars David Domke and Kevin Coe shows previously only one president had used that phrase to close a speech out and it's an inauspicious occasion — it's President Nixon in 1973 trying to talk his way out of the Watergate scandal. But Reagan quickly makes it a fixture of all of his speeches, so much so that we can't imagine a president ending a speech without some variation of "God bless America."

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Good reason to read the newspaper, at least online: FACTS difficult to find on the Internet without investigative reporters

State donor's cash in several war chests

Posted: January 18, 2015 at 3:10 a.m.
Updated: January 18, 2015 at 3:11 a.m.
In the past 15 years, more than $1.2 million in campaign gifts to candidates for Arkansas' most powerful political offices have originated with one man: Fort Smith nursing home owner Michael Morton.
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A listing of nursing home owner Michael Morton's largest contributions. (Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
In a state where fundraisers consider $1,000 a decent-size campaign donation, Morton and his businesses gave $88,000 to newly elected Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's campaign last year, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette review of campaign finance disclosure records.
How we did it
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviewed a computer database of contributions from nursing home owner Michael Morton of Fort Smith and companies he owns or operates, as listed in the Arkansas secretary of state’s office.
The gifts were dated from October 1999 through October 2014.
The contributions were compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a Helena, Mont., nonprofit. The nonpartisan group tracks virtually all campaign contributions of statewide, legislative, judicial and other candidates in major races in all 50 states.
Arkansas is among a handful of states that still do not require candidates — at least those for statewide and legislative offices — to file campaign finance reports into electronic databases. The state requires only paper filings. The Montana nonprofit hires workers to transcribe the paper reports into electronic formats available to the public.
Morton directed $30,000 to new Gov. Asa Hutchinson's 2014 race and $36,000 to Hutchinson's Democratic opponent, Mike Ross.
And Morton generated more than $100,000 in campaign contributions for five successful Arkansas Supreme Court candidates over the past five years: Justices Rhonda Wood ($40,000), Courtney Goodson ($25,000), Karen Baker ($24,000), Josephine Linker Hart ($10,000) and Robin Wynne ($5,000).
Political fundraisers have long known Morton as one of the state's most generous campaign contributors. Now the nursing home owner's donations are drawing scrutiny for another reason.
In a Jan. 9 guilty plea to a federal bribery charge, former Faulkner County Circuit Judge Michael Maggio admitted reducing a jury's award in a negligence lawsuit against a Faulkner County nursing home from $5.2 million to $1 million.
In exchange for the ruling, Maggio's plea said, the judge was to receive campaign contributions from the nursing facility's owner, identified as "Individual A." News accounts and separate court records, however, have named the nursing home -- Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center -- and its owner as Morton.
The plea also mentioned an "Individual B" who served as a go-between for the donations. Former state Sen. Gilbert Baker has acknowledged helping raise money for Maggio's campaign.
Neither Morton nor Baker have been charged with any crimes.
Baker could not be reached for comment last week. Morton declined to talk about the Maggio case or other campaign contributions.
In earlier interviews, Morton has said he expects nothing more from judges than for them to "follow the laws of Arkansas."
Maggio, 53, could face a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.
The newspaper's review of Morton's campaign gifts since late 1999 found donations to more than 170 candidates for office, ranging from the U.S. Congress to the Arkansas Legislature.
The newspaper studied only campaign finance records filed with Secretary of State Mark Martin's office, which include statewide and legislative races. The review did not look at reports filed by candidates seeking county or city offices.
Morton and more than 40 of his businesses provided almost $1,245,000 to statewide and legislative candidates in the past 15 years, the newspaper found.
The Democrat-Gazette reviewed more than 750 campaign donation records listing gifts from Morton or his nursing homes to candidates and political parties.
At least 12 candidates accepted $20,000 or more from the nursing home operator, records show. In addition to Rutledge, Hutchinson, Ross and the three Supreme Court justices, Wood, Goodson and Karen Baker, the candidates include: Tim Cullen, a Little Rock lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2014; former state Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood; former state Rep. John Burris, R-Harrison; former Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee; state Sen. Missy Thomas Irvin, R-Mountain View; and former state Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith.
The largest gifts stretch back to 2000. Huckabee's gubernatorial campaigns received $25,500 from Morton from 2000 to 2002, campaign finance records show.
Contributions to Rutledge, Cullen, Holland and Burris carried only 2014 dates.
Donations legal
Arkansas law sets the maximum campaign contribution from one individual at $2,000 per candidate per election. Experts say such limits exist to keep wealthy donors from having too much financial influence over public officials.
Until Arkansas voters banned corporate donations in the Nov. 4 general election, Morton and other business operators could legally skirt the gift-limit rule by donating to a candidate through each of several companies they controlled.
Channeling $88,000 in campaign gifts to Rutledge, for example, required checks from 24 Morton companies and Morton himself.
Because Rutledge faced three elections last year -- the Republican Party primary, a runoff and the general election -- her limit from a single contributor was $6,000.
Morton and at least seven of his businesses each donated the $6,000 maximum in the Rutledge races, campaign finance disclosure records show. Other Morton properties sent in $4,000 or less.
The Democrat-Gazette asked a Rutledge spokesman if she knew she had accepted $88,000 from Morton and his companies last year and if she felt any pressure for favors in return.
Rutledge "has not, nor has she ever been asked to, and will never, provide services in response to a campaign contribution," spokesman Judd Deere wrote in an emailed response.
The newspaper asked how the donations might appear to affect the attorney general's role in investigating nursing homes accused of patient abuse and other wrongdoing.
"Attorney General Rutledge ... will work to investigate and prosecute anyone who abuses or neglects those in nursing home facilities," the spokesman wrote.
Fundamental right
The Democrat-Gazette attempted last week to contact all 12 candidates for statewide, legislative and judicial offices who have accepted at least $20,000 in campaign gifts from Morton and his businesses, as found in campaign finance records.
Most did not immediately respond.
One who did was Little Rock attorney Cullen, who lost his race last year for the Arkansas Supreme Court to then-Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne. Morton and his nursing homes contributed $38,000 toward Cullen's campaign, records show.
"Michael Morton, like every citizen, has a fundamental right to participate in elections by making publicly disclosed campaign contributions within the legal limits," Cullen wrote in an email. "Maggio's guilty plea is a stain on the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the judiciary; however, I do trust that the members of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and trial judges all over the state have the courage and character to rule on cases based on the law and the facts, and are not unduly influenced by campaign contributions from any source."
Cullen went on to say that Morton's campaign contributions are disclosed in public records, unlike so-called dark money spent by nonprofit groups in his campaign and others that are not required to reveal financial backers' names.
"By publicly disclosing campaign contributions, anyone appearing before a judge can assess the potential for bias, and ask the judge to recuse," or remove himself, from a case, Cullen wrote.
Burris, the former legislator, said in an emailed interview that he didn't feel pressure to perform political favors in return for $28,000 that Morton and his companies contributed to his 2014 campaign.
"If Mr. Maggio allowed a campaign contribution to affect a decision he made as a public official, he should be held accountable," Burris wrote. "I have accepted contributions from Mr. Morton. He was one of the least aggressive persons with whom I worked. We interacted less than a handful of times. I was under no pressure from him or any of his associates."
Mark Henry, campaign manager for Justice Baker, said his candidate followed judicial ethics rules that require those candidates to distance themselves from donors and fundraising to help avoid conflicts of interest and apparent conflicts of interest.
"She never once indicated she was aware of the source of her funding," Henry said. "She had no interest or direct involvement."
After Maggio's guilty plea to the federal charge of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, a lawyer working for the family of patient Martha Bull, who died in Morton's Greenbrier nursing home, talked to the newspaper.
Thomas Buchanan urged lawmakers and other elected officials to stop accepting campaign donations from Morton.
"They need to return what they have [already received] because if you think that there's not something expected in return, think again," he said.
None of the public officials and former candidates interviewed by the newspaper said they planned to return Morton contributions.
A spokesman for Justice Wood said she already had refunded a portion of Morton's donations.
Records show she returned $23,000, in addition to the $40,000 she accepted.
The spokesman said Wood had no further comment.
Rutledge's spokesman said Rutledge "has not returned any of the contributions."
SundayMonday on 01/18/2015