A month after dismissing federal prosecutors, Justice Department does not have any U.S. attorneys in place

A month after dismissing federal prosecutors, Justice Department does not have any U.S. attorneys in place

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a lot of things. But so far, none of those things include “good at being Attorney General.”

Would you hire a builder who, when he finds out you want a new house at some point down the road, just knocks down the one you have now, without thinking about where you’ll live until the new one is ready?

If you would, then Jeff Sessions is your man. Because he knocked down the Justice Department before even making the vague outline of a plan to put a new one in place.

Oh, and just in case you forgot, he’s a racist son of a bitch, too.

Alex Jones’ rock and hard place: Authentic lunatic or performance artist and fit parent?

In Travis County custody case, jury will search for real Alex Jones

Jonathan Tilove reports this story for American-Statesman:

Beginning Monday, a jury will be selected at the Travis County Courthouse that in the next two weeks will be asked to sort out whether there is a difference between the public and private Alex Jones, and whether, when it comes to his fitness as a parent, it matters.

Kelly Jones’ attorney, Bobby Newman, is engaged in some quality tactical litigation:

[Judge] Naranjo, meanwhile, said she had never seen or heard Jones on Infowars until Wednesday’s hearing, when Kelly Jones’ legal team started previewing Infowars videos it would like to play for the jury.

The first was a clip from a July 2015 broadcast in which Jones had his son, then 12, on to play the latest of some 15 or 20 videos he had made with the help of members of the Infowars team who, Jones said, had “taken him under their wing” during summer days spent at the South Austin studio between stints at tennis and Christian camps.

“He is undoubtedly cut out for this, and I intend for him to eclipse what I’ve done. He’s a way greater person than I was at 12,” said Jones, turning to his son. “I love you so much, and I didn’t mean to get you up here, sweetheart, and tell people how much I love you, but you’re so handsome, and you’re a good little knight who’s going to grow up, I know, to be a great fighter against the enemy.”

“So far this looks like good stuff,” [Alex Jones’ Attorney Randall] Wilhite said. Naranjo OK’d it for viewing by the jury.

But Bobby Newman, the attorney for Kelly Jones guiding the court through the Infowars clips, was laying the groundwork for the argument that there is no separation between Alex Jones, father, and Alex Jones, Infowarrior.

It’s a solid argument, and Alex Jones is in a bit of a bind here, forced to choose between maintaining the authenticity of a lunatic his inexplicably massive fanbase worships and sacrificing that authenticity in an attempt to hang onto custody of his young children.

Unenforceable ban on atheists holding public office still on the books in 8 states

Unenforceable ban on atheists holding public office still on the books in 8 states

This is an old story but after reading an article about a study [PDF] suggesting there are many atheists who don’t want to admit they’re atheists, I remembered reading about how a country which prides itself as a world leader in personal freedom still has laws banning atheists from public service.

My memory was correct, and that country is the United States. Oyez, which publishes Supreme Court resources including audio of oral arguments, has a great page on the 1960 case which declared such laws unconstitutional (as if anyone should have needed the Supreme Court to tell them that…).

In Torcaso v. Watkins, the Court held unanimously that, quoting Oyez:

such a requirement places the state of Maryland firmly on the side of those people who believe in God and are willing to state their belief. With this requirement, Maryland effectively aids religions that profess a belief in God at the expense of any other form of belief or disbelief. The First Amendment expressly prohibits a state from taking this position. Although the candidate has the option of not pursuing public office rather than declaring a belief in God, the test is an unconstitutional encroachment on the freedom of religion.

So these laws aren’t enforceable, but the fact that they’re still on the books is an affront to the Constitution and should embarrass any lawmaker who claims to respect that Constitution.

The magnificent stupidity of the “nuclear option”

The magnificent stupidity of the “nuclear option”

It’s a trainwreck. Republicans undoubtedly stole the nomination from Merrick Garland, which makes calls by the GOP for Democrats to stop being obstructionist rich in hypocrisy.

But then again, there’s plenty of hypocrisy in Democratic criticisms of today’s use of the “nuclear option.” After all, they made a similar move in 2013, explicitly eliminating the filibuster for all nominations except the Supreme Court.

It was a stupid thing for Democrats to do in 2013 and it’s a stupid thing for Republicans to do in 2017. Why? Because these rules apply to everyone going forward, no matter which party is in power.

The lack of foresight and critical thinking the nuclear option displays when any party uses it are staggering, and illustrative of Congress’ toxic tendency to put pettiness and blind party loyalty before the best interests of their constituents.

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Modern Law.

Re: Dumb conspiracy theories on Scalia’s death

Enough with the conspiracy theories about Justice Scalia’s death

I read this earlier today:

“As a former homicide commander, I am stunned that no autopsy was ordered for Justice Scalia,” William O. Ritchie wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday, according to reports. After seeking to cast doubt on the conclusion of the deputy U.S. marshals who responded to a call from the ranch, he added, “My gut tells me there is something fishy going on in Texas.”

My gut tells me there is some fishing for attention going on in the head of the former D.C. police officer who said that.

Why?

Let’s consider this:

  1. Why?
  2. Why??
  3. Why???

Was it a Liberal conspiracy to get President Obama one more lasting decision about the future of United States legal policy?

Was it a “Conservative” conspiracy to give Congressional Republicans and presidential candidates something “meaningful” to “stand up” to Obama about?

Was it Ancient Aliens?

There was no autopsy, they say! There was a pillow above his head, they say! The President was told long before anyone else, they say (as if the President doesn’t get most of the news before everyone else…)!

Conspiracy theorists demand: “What is your proof Scalia wasn’t murdered?”

These stupid theories remind me of one of the frequent arguments levied against atheists: “What is your proof that there is no god??”

Who proved god exists in the first place?

Pillows

Many articles note the ranch owner who found Scalia said there was a pillow above his head, and many conspiracy theorists point to this as suspicious. I sleep with a pillow over my head every night, and another one underneath it, using the two to drown out the sounds of an increasingly conspiratorial world so I can maintain my slumber all night long.

No conspiracy. Just a light sleeper.

Politics aside

I disagreed with much of Justice Scalia’s Supreme Court jurisprudence but his presence on the Court was invaluable to the development of United States law and the debates from which it springs.

He articulated his positions in such a way that I (almost always) respected them, even when I found it hard to believe someone so intelligent was seriously asserting them. He was rarely conclusory, giving reasons for his views, and whether you agreed with those reasons or not, that’s more than most politicians (and lawyers) usually do.

His death is a loss, but there are few more certain paths to some sort of immortality than thirty years on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Photo: Then-nominee Antonin Scalia, right, with President Ronald Reagan in 1986, via Wikipedia

Democracy.io – Contact your Members of Congress

Democracy.io – Contact your Members of Congress

Great stuff from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Failure to effectively reach members of Congress has disastrous consequences. Studies show that politicians fundamentally misconceive their constituents’ views, making it harder for them to represent us in the lawmaking process.

That’s why we built Democracy.io: a new tool to put you in touch with your members of Congress—with as few clicks as possible.

Obama Plans Broader Use of Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Obama Plans Broader Use of Clemency to Free Nonviolent Drug Offenders

Peter Baker of The New York Times:

In his second term, Mr. Obama embarked on an effort to use clemency and has raised his total commutations to 43, a number he may double this month. The initiative was begun last year by James M. Cole, then the deputy attorney general, who set criteria for who might qualify: generally nonviolent inmates who have served more than 10 years in prison, have behaved well while incarcerated and would not have received as lengthy a sentence under today’s revised rules.

Overincarceration is a real problem. Like any decent lawyer, I’ll cite a few reliable sources.

I don’t have an answer. Longtime readers will know I’m a cynical bastard, despite my best efforts to the contrary. It seems to me like this move is more for the “optics” and less for real effect, but I’d love to be wrong.

Primary source: White House press release

Photo by me

Larry Lessig fighting for campaign finance reform with Mayday PAC

Larry Lessig fighting for campaign finance reform with Mayday PAC

FBI asks DOJ to investigate source of Calderon leak to Al Jazeera

FBI asks DOJ to investigate source of Calderon leak to Al Jazeera